Outdoor Destinations: Branson, Missouri

Bass and stripers are just two species anglers can catch on Branson’s Table Rock Lake. (Photos courtesy Branson Tourism)

Outdoor opportunities on hyperdrive in this entertainment area

Folks head to Branson, Missouri, for a lot of reasons, usually to take in great entertainment, eat country food and maybe get a thrill or two at Silver Dollar City amusement park. It’s a great place for family fun where old fashioned values are still…well, still valued! America lives and visits here, they say.

Other entertainment venues are too numerous to mention here — from the Titanic exhibit, Hollywood Wax Museum, ziplines, the aquarium to helicopter and kayak tours of town and the surrounding area. You can even go look for Bigfoot. Seven million people currently visit the small Midwestern town that has become the home to more than 45 theaters, 80 shows and lots more.

But while entertainers put on world-class shows, none are as spectacular as those that Mother Nature stars in the outdoors around this whole region.

For starters, Branson has almost as much shoreline as the entire state of California, anchored by three pristine lakes with incredible places to hike, swim, relax, or fish. Table Rock Lake offers great trout fishing all year long as well as bass fishing. Lake Taneycomo, home to the Branson Landing boardwalk, provides on-the-water experiences from boating to kayaking to trout fishing. And Bull Shoals’ clear waters offer fishing and activities like scuba diving adventures.

Top of the Rock

Among the most unique areas, though, is the natural bounty captured in areas like Top of the Rock Nature Area and Dogwood Canyon, properties developed by Bass Pro Shop owner Johnny Morris.

At Top of the Rock, the Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail Cart Tour takes you up and down the rocky slopes where there are more waterfalls than you can count. The two and a half-mile journey on an electric cart is highlighted by stunning rock formations and views of Table Rock Lake. It even has a ride through cave with a waterfall and the Bat Bar, where you can get a glass of lemonade or an adult beverage.

As a young man, Johnny Morris, founder of Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops, spent time spelunking in a vast cave and hunting for mushrooms on the land that is now home to Top of the Rock. Years later, as part of his goal to sustain and share the Ozarks history, he acquired the land and worked with a team of craftsmen to unearth Top of the Rock using the natural landscape as a guide.

The area features Arnie’s Barn overlooking the famed Arnold Palmer Golf Course and Table Rock. A huge sinkhole, called the “Cathedral of Nature,” was part of the golf area when suddenly, in 2015, it just sunk into the earth. Where most would have just started trying to figure out how to fill up the hole, Morris’ vision made him realize that dirt went somewhere. He has spent years and millions of dollars digging it out to try and discover the caves and passageways that must exist down there somewhere. No doubt, one day, the area will be open for the public to visit and see new amazing discoveries.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

At Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, one of the first things they point out to people is the difference between conservation and preservation. Owned, operated and maintained by Dogwood Canyon Foundation, they are dedicated to promoting natural conservation and to protect the natural environment — including its wildlife and plant life — by acquiring and maintaining 10,000 acres of ecologically significant, undeveloped land to benefit the general public now and in the future.

This angler fishes Lake Taneycomo as the Branson Scenic Railway takes visitors on a tour of the area behind him.

All the streams and ponds are stocked with trout and you can even rent a fishing pole and catch as many as you’d like, if you release them. You can make a deal to catch and clean the fish, too. You can go on your own, or use a guide. Check with them for details.

Conservation is the wise use of resources. It includes respectfully building cart paths and natural looking bridges and education structures, but not being afraid to turn a leaf over and see what’s under it. Preservation is leaving an area exactly as it is found. The majority of this vast area is left that way. Every dollar raised there goes back to the Foundation for the continued use of the area.

World-class recreation at the Big Cedar Lodge isn’t far away and the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum is a one-of-a-kind visit.

For more information on these special wild areas, you can check them out online. But don’t let that sub for checking them out in person. Learn more at explorebranson.com.

About Kinny Haddox 592 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.