When a sinkhole created a 70x40-foot divot at the highest point above Table Rock Lake in the Missouri Ozarks, owner and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris responded with his usual creativity. He envisioned a new attraction. Four years and more than 72,000 dump truck loads later, he’s still looking for a connection to a cave he found decades ago. The sinkhole project has destroyed a Tom Watson-designed putting green, but under the name Cathedral of Nature, it’s already turning heads.
If the sinkhole plot line sounds familiar, it should. Branson’s staple theme park, Silver Dollar City, was itself built on a natural cavern. Marvel Cave started drawing big crowds when Elvis was still shaking his hips. Then came roller coasters, kitschy thrills and gospel shows.
But the Branson of today is delivering more than mini golf and slapstick comedy. Ziplines swoop down from a 170-foot tower and span lakes. Hikers and cyclists can explore trails along limestone bluffs and hundreds of miles of shoreline. A new wave of tribute shows salutes bands that peaked after the eight-track tape.
Then there’s Johnny. On the edge of Branson, his luxury-wilderness resort, Big Cedar Lodge, is carving premier golf courses into the Ozark Mountains. Since 2014, Big Cedar’s Top of the Rock has drawn some of golf’s biggest names for a PGA event each spring. The buzz has even won over Tiger Woods. He’s partnering with Johnny to open his first public course, Payne’s Valley, with 19 holes set to open this year—barring any sinkhole surprises.
Chapel of the Ozarks at Top of the Rock
The Branson Coaster The double-track Alpine coaster opened last year on Branson’s Strip, letting riders race or glide down the curving track. thebransoncoaster.com
Branson Landing The upscale outdoor shopping center at Lake Taneycomo is known for its hourly fountain shows with fire, lights and music. bransonlanding.com
Branson Scenic Railway Vintage rail cars journey from the 1905 depot in downtown Branson for a 40-mile round trip into the Ozark foothills. bransontrain.com
Branson Zipline and Canopy Tours at Wolfe Creek Preserve Zips, suspension bridges and scenery fill the course north of town. The 1⁄4-mile Blue Streak tour ends with a 100-foot free fall. bransonzipline.com
College of the Ozarks Reap the rewards of student work hours by purchasing bags of grain after free tours of a gristmill. Or visit the Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen for fruitcakes and free tours. The Ralph Foster Museum houses the jalopy from The Beverly Hillbillies show, plus items about Ozark history. cofo.edu
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park In nearby Lampe, two-hour tram tours cross into Arkansas and stop to see elk and bison. Also popular: fly-fishing, biking and horseback riding. dogwoodcanyon.org
Golf In 2019, the opening of Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley, a tribute to the late Payne Stewart of Missouri, will seal Branson as a national golf hot spot. It opens at Big Cedar Lodge near four other courses designed by some of the leading names in golf.
Lake Taneycomo The clear, cold waters of the man-made lake are ideal for trout. Cast a line off the banks near Branson Landing. Or stroll the waterfront to see rugged cliffs. explorebranson.com
Marvel Cave The Silver Dollar City theme park grew up around this natural cave, a tourist attraction since the late 1800s. Park admission includes an hour-long cave tour, with highlights like the Cathedral Room and Waterfall Room. Be prepared to tackle nearly 600 steps. silverdollarcity.com
Runaway Mountain Coaster The double-track Alpine coaster on Branson’s Strip lets riders race or glide down a curving track. bransonalpinemountaincoaster.com
Showboat Branson Belle A paddle-wheeler glides around Table Rock Lake. Midday and evening cruises offer meals and entertainment. showboatbransonbelle.com
Shows More than 100 shows take place daily in summer, and the offerings run from hokey to sophisticated. A few of our faves: Raiding the Country Vault, the biblical- theme shows at the Sight and Sound Theatre, and Liverpool Legends. explorebranson.com
Silver Dollar City The spinning steel roller coaster Time Traveler recently joined more than 40 other rides and attractions. Admission includes an hour-long tour of Marvel Cave, a natural cave that’s been a tourist attraction since the late 1800s. Check out the park’s 60 Ozarks crafts shops, and round out your visit with a meal at one of the Ozarks-theme restaurants. silverdollarcity.com
Table Rock Lake Behind a massive dam, this reservoir serves as the centerpiece of Branson’s outdoors. Known for its clear water and relative solitude, Table Rock provides some of the area’s most consistent bass fishing. Also popular: water-skiing, stand-up paddleboarding and cruising the lake in boats like Big Cedar Lodge’s Lady Liberty. At Long Creek Marina, rent boats or charter a fishing guide. visittablerocklake.com
Table Rock Lake
The Titanic Museum Attraction Beyond the fake iceberg puncturing the bow of the ship-shape building on the Strip, the somber story unfolds about the ship’s construction and sinking. See salvaged items from the ship and walk the replica Grand Staircase. titanicbranson.com
Top of the Rock Sunsets look glorious from a bluff-top destination that includes Chapel of the Ozarks, golf courses, a wine cellar, three restaurants and an Ozarks natural-history museum. topoftherock.com
BillyGail’s Cafe The pancakes at this breakfast and lunch spot are so big they flop over the ends of the platters. Red-checked tablecloths and mismatched mugs look cheery in the former gas station. Billy Gail's Cafe on Facebook
Black Oak Grill A corner spot in the Branson Landing outdoor shopping mall along Lake Taneycomo turns out familiar menu items like burgers, grilled meat loaf and garlicky mashed potatoes. blackoakgrill.com
Black Oak Grill
Branson Cafe The old-time diner dishes comfort foods: made-from-scratch biscuits and gravy, plate-size cinnamon rolls, fried chicken and breakfast ham. downtownbransoncafe.com
Devil’s Pool Restaurant At sumptuous Big Cedar Lodge just outside of town, inspired Heartland cuisine satisfies in a dining room filled with antique furnishings. bigcedar.com
Dino’s Cake and Coffee Company Pianist Dino Kartsonakis’ flair extends to his baking, too. The star is a three-layer carrot cake. bransoncake.com
Fall Creek Steak and Catfish House Guests come for tossed rolls, as well as meals of deep-fried catfish and blackberry cobbler. fallcreeksteakhouse.com
The Keeter Center Students at College of the Ozarks bake, cook and serve hearty fare, such as pot roast and glazed flat-iron steaks, in a dining room accented with stone and wooden beams. Also at the center: A bakery, creamery and student-run lodge with 15 suites. keetercenter.edu
Level 2 Steakhouse at the Hilton Perfectly aged corn-fed beef steaks appeal to diners; we also love the Missouri butter cake with vanilla ice cream. level2steakhouse.com
Osage Restaurant Views of a golf course, Table Rock Lake and the Ozark Mountains are the perfect backdrop to meals of tender ribeye and roasted fingerling potatoes. topoftherock.com/dining/osage-restaurant
Pasghetti’s A 65-foot-high fork and meatball form the entryway to this Italian eatery, where the food takes a back seat to the decor. Theme dining rooms and an indoor Ferris wheel keep the atmosphere lively. pasghettis.com
Sugar Leaf Bakery Although it’s in a mall on the Strip, you’ll feel like you’re in a garden room while eating quiche or a flaky pastry. sugarleaftreats.com
White River Fish House The floating-barge restaurant on Lake Taneycomo offers gator and catfish. whiteriverfishhouse.com
Big Cedar Lodge The wooded location on Table Rock Lake is 10 miles south of the neon hustle of Branson. Amenities include a spa, golf courses, a marina and the new Fun Mountain, an indoor play complex with attractions such as underwater-theme bowling. Accommodations range from hotel and lodge rooms to cottages and log cabins. bigcedar.com
Big Cedar Lodge
Cabins at Green Mountain Resort Cabins—some on a wooded stream—give a sense of forest getaway in reach of Branson Strip. festiva.com/cabinsgreenmtn
Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa and Convention Center Rooms and suites surround a soaring central atrium. Fine-dining restaurant Chateau Grille, two pools and a marina make the hotel stand out. chateauonthelakebranson.com
Silver Dollar City’s Wilderness Ozark woodlands blanket this immaculately kept property near the theme parks. The 39 cabins range from rustic to posh. silverdollarcity.com/wilderness
Still Waters Resort A well-stocked marina, three swimming pools, mini golf and easy access to Silver Dollar City attract families and boaters. stillwatersresort.com
Still Waters Resort
Thousand Hills Golf Resort Tee off at this top-rated 18-hole course with rock formations, forests and streams. Options include 300-some cabins and condos. thousandhills.com
The Village at Indian Point Near Table Rock Lake’s shore, the condos have fireplaces, private decks and great views. Enjoy two pools and a boat dock. thevillageatindianpoint.com
The Village at Indian Point. Photo © Kristi Foster.
More information: explorebranson.com