You could easily spend an entire vacation being entertained in Branson, Missouri, the self-proclaimed Live Entertainment Capital of the World. But for a change of scenery, these three excursions offer visitors based in Branson some beautiful distractions. So pick one of these day trips, fill up the tank, hop in the car and explore the surrounding area.
Distance from Branson: 45 miles
Travel north on Highway 65 to a lively college town that has a little bit of everything, from minor-league baseball to a locally owned brewery. You should, however, make a couple of stops along the way.
For an adrenaline fix, visit Branson Zipline & Canopy Tours. Just 7 miles north of Branson, on Highway 65, this canopy tour on the Wolfe Creek Preserve offers a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience with gorgeous views. Courses include a mix of ziplines and suspension bridges hanging high in the Ozark Mountain treetops, as well as the thrill-seekers’ Blue Streak Fast Line & Free Fall Xpress, during which guests zip down a speedy quarter-mile line through the park, then free-fall from a 100-foot platform.
After a morning spent flying through the trees, continue north for a lunch that flies overhead, at Lambert’s Café, aka “Home of the Throwed Rolls.” Bring your appetite for dishes like chicken pot-pie, hog jowl, rib-eye steaks and fantastic burgers. Family-style “pass arounds” come as a bonus: Servers wander about dishing out delicacies such as black-eyed peas and fried okra, while a roll thrower takes his post in the center of the restaurant, waiting for an open hand to rise above the crowd.
The first and largest Bass Pro Shops outdoor store can be found in the heart of Springfield, and it continues to be one of the town’s biggest draws. Inside the nearly 500,000-square-foot space, you’ll find just about everything you need to outfit hunting, fishing and camping trips plus saltwater and freshwater aquariums, indoor waterfalls, a live alligator exhibit and archery and pistol ranges.
Take in some of the homegrown art at the monthly First Friday Art Walk in downtown Springfield. On the first Friday of each month, nearly 20 local galleries extend their hours to welcome art lovers with a glass of wine, snacks and a preview of the latest creations from admired local artists. Be sure to check out the Good Girl Art Gallery, Fresh Gallery and Randy Bacon Gallery.
If craft brews are your thing, check out Mother’s Brewing Company, a popular new brewery in downtown Springfield. Take a tour of the facility, then relax in the tasting room and sample the year-round brews as well as the ever-changing seasonal offerings.
Springfield is home to its own minor league baseball team, the Springfield Cardinals. This team, which is the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, almost always guarantees a good show. Catch a home game—and maybe a fly ball—at Hammons Field.
Mountain Home, Arkansas
Distance from Branson: 83 miles
Head south of Branson on Highway 65 to Mountain Home for fresh air and a day of fishing (some of the best in the South). Stop along the way to recharge with a freshly baked pastry, homemade soup or sandwich at Neighbor’s Mill Bakery and Café in Harrison, Arkansas.
With 3 rivers and 2 lakes within 20 miles of downtown Mountain Home, it’s no wonder outdoor aficionados flock to its waters nearly year-round. If you are on a quest for that trophy largemouth bass, walleye or trout, hit one of the many bait shops around before getting on the water. There are great guides to choose from, but if you have a large group, White River Family Fishing can accommodate parties of up to 6.
There are tons of treasures to uncover at the many antique malls and flea markets in the Mountain Home area. You’ll find great selections, from vintage home decor to antique jewelry and clothing, at Remember When Antiques, Country Home Antiques, Rob’s Flea Market and Gift-Tiques. If you shop up an appetite, the Riverview Café, inside Gift-Tiques, is a great option. For a delicious cup of coffee, you might try the Blackbird Café, in the Baxter County Library. It also serves soup, salads and sandwiches. If Southern barbecue is what you crave, KT’s Smokehouse, in Gassville, is a casual BBQ joint offering some of the best pulled-pork and chopped-pork sandwiches in northern Arkansas.
Buffalo River–National Park Region
Distance from Branson: 60 miles
Endless hiking, canoeing and other wilderness adventures can be found in the Buffalo River–National Park Region. America’s first national river flows through 135 miles of the Ozarks and is surrounded by bluffs and forest filled with wildlife, including elk, black bear and trumpeter swans.
On your drive from Branson to Ponca—the heart of the Buffalo River area—make a quick stop in Compton for an early morning hike along one of the state’s most popular and picturesque hiking trails, Hemmed-in Hollow. This trail leads to a magnificent sight—the tallest waterfall between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges, which falls from 250 feet. There are two ways to hike to Hemmed-in Hollow. Experienced hikers can take the Compton Trail—a strenuous 5-mile trail with an elevation change of 1,100 feet. A shorter path can be found by accessing a trail 1 mile downstream of Jim Bluff on the Upper Buffalo River. Just look for all the canoes pulled out to the left and hike in about a half mile.
Canoe and kayak rental can be easy to find along the Buffalo. Outfitters such as Lost Valley Canoe and Buffalo Outdoor Center can equip your whole group, and they offer shuttle transportation to the access point of your choice.
If you want to find the perfect view, look no farther than Whitaker Point Trail, accessed from the town of Ponca. The 3-mile path goes past a waterfall and along a creek to arrive at the main attraction, a stunning bluff with a ledge resembling a hawk’s beak overlooking the valley. It’s no surprise that this breathtaking spot is one of the most photographed points in the area.
Branson Zipline & Canopy Tours: 2339 U.S. Hwy. 65, Walnut Shade, MO; 1.800.712.4654; bransonzipline.com
Buffalo Outdoor Center: 1 Main St. (Hwy. 43), Ponca, AR; 1.870.861.5514; buffaloriver.com
First Friday Art Walk: Springfield, MO; ffaw.org
Hammons Field: 955 E. Trafficway St., Springfield, MO; 1.417.863.0395; springfieldcardinals.com
Hemmed-in Hollow Trail: Compton, AR; buffaloriver.com
Whitaker Point Trail: Hwy. 21 S., Boxley Valley, Ponca, AR; buffaloriver.com
White River Family Fishing: 708 Central Blvd., Bull Shoals, AR; 1.870.405.8215; whiteriverfamilyfishing.com
Bass Pro Shops: 1935 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield, MO; 1.417.887.7334; basspro.com
Country Home Antiques: 74154 Hwy. 62 E., Mountain Home, AR; 1.870.421.5566
Fresh Gallery: 400 W. Walnut St., Springfield, MO; 41.17.862.9300; freshgallery.org
Gift-Tiques: 10413 U.S. 62, E. Cotter, AR; 1.870.453.4438
Good Girl Art Gallery: 325 E. Walnut St., Springfield, MO; 1.417.865.7055; ggagallery.com
Randy Bacon Gallery: 600 W. College St., Springfield, MO; 1.417.868.8179; randybacon.com
Remember When Antiques: 5655 Hwy. 62 E., Mountain Home, AR; 1.870.492.4551
Rob’s Flea Market: 6045 U.S. 62 W., Gassville, AR; 1.870.430.2430 robsfleas.com
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.