Giant ships, giant slides, giant cats, and giant adventures into the outdoors — Branson, Missouri is basically one huge playground for your next family vacation. Here are just a few of the spots in and around town that will get both you and the kids excited about a trip.
1. Silver Dollar City
This 1880s-style theme park is one-of-a-kind, with more than 40 rides and attractions, 18 restaurants, near-constant live music, and a variety of festivals running throughout the year. Outlaw Run, their iconic wooden roller coaster, is a throwback to your parents’ theme parks, and it’s about time the kids got that classic (and slightly bumpy) coaster experience.
If you’re planning a trip to Silver Dollar City around the winter holidays, look forward to walking through the park amidst 6+ million lights (and plenty of hot chocolate), turning the expansive property into a twinkling wonderland.
Tip: Grab a Trailblazer Pass and a Show Lover’s Pass to skip the lines and nab the best seats for rides and shows, respectively.
2. White Water waterpark
As you’re cruising the Highway 76 Entertainment District, the kids will probably spot the turquoise splendor that is the 13-acre White Water — and then all bets are off. Wave pools, lazy rivers, slides, mat racers, waterfalls, plunges, and private cabanas make this one of the best waterparks in the country. The little tykes can stick to Coconut Cove, while the fearless can check out KaPau Plummet, a 240-foot, 70-degree plunging slide.
Tip: There are different ticket levels, with options that include multi-park admittance (White Water is part of the Silver Dollar City umbrella of attractions).
3. Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, aka the World’s Most Visited Dinner Attraction, starts with a stroll through open-air stables, warms up with the comedic Carriage Room Opening Act, and then hits full speed with a four-course meal (whole rotisserie chicken, hickory-smoked barbecued pork, all the Southern sides you can name) that you and the fam feast on while watching top-notch trick riders perform their best stunts. Don’t forget to breathe!
Between the special effects, pyrotechnics, and cowboy boots, you’ll feel a little like you’re watching an old Western with Cirque du Soleil flair.
4. Ripley’s Branson
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! will confound you from the moment you set eyes on the building itself, which looks as if it’s being torn apart. This is just the first of many “oddities” and optical illusions you’ll encounter on your visit.
The museum comprises eight galleries, each filled with unique (and rotating) art and activities — the 450-some sights are a bit eclectic, ranging from a lion built from rubber tires to a spinning vortex tunnel. However you tackle it, the kids will want hours to roam and discover.
5. Titanic Museum
When you visit the Titanic Museum, you’ll receive a ticket assigning you the identity of a real passenger who boarded the original ship. Do you make it? You won’t know until the end.
Ticket in hand, you’ll then travel through the innards of the (replica) Titanic — it’s been built 50% to scale of the original and houses 400 real-life artifacts. Follow along on the self-guided audio tour, taking your time to learn what life was like for the ship’s ill-fated passengers.
The museum is especially great for kids because of how interactive it is — they can shovel coal in the boiler room, try to keep their feet on the severe slopes of the sinking ship, climb into a lifeboat, and feel the freezing water temperatures of the Atlantic. At the end of the tour, match the passenger name on your ticket to the entry in the Memorial Room, see if they survived, and learn more about their life aboard the Titanic.
6. Table Rock Lake
It’s a wonder the Ozarks haven’t come up in this list yet — in case you forgot, Branson is set within a pretty incredible landscape. Table Rock Lake collects water from the White, James, and Kings Rivers, and it’s a spring, summer, and fall destination. The lake is usually pretty quiet (check out the town of Shell Knob for a secluded swimming spot), but it’s still within easy striking distance of all the draws of Branson.
Rent a kayak, boat, or houseboat, or just fish, swim, or play in the water. Lodging options near the lake range from ample campsites to kid-friendly hotels that also provide rental services and boat docking. There are actually 100 or so resorts adjacent to the lake — which sounds like a lot, but remember, there’s 800 miles of shoreline here, so there’s plenty of love (and beach) to go around.
7. National Tiger Sanctuary
At the National Tiger Sanctuary, you and the kids can come face-to-face with some of the biggest wild cats on the planet, including lions, black leopards, and Bengal tigers. And get this: You can feed the cats yourself.
The nonprofit rescue organization’s goal is to “provide unique educational programs and experiences to foster a love and appreciation for nature in the heart of every visitor.” The kids will benefit not only from the incredible experience of seeing these cats up close, but will also get to hear directly from the pros.
Tip: No reservations are needed for the basic tours, but it’s recommended to call ahead to book one of the more specialized experiences, like the “Behind the Scenes” or “Day with the Director” tour.
8. Hollywood Wax Museum
Your trip to Branson should include a star or two — check out the Hollywood Wax Museum to make it happen. (The giant ape climbing the building will be your first clue you’re in the right place.) Selfies with the stars are encouraged, and you’ll likely be shocked by just how real they appear.
While there, also check out the other excellent family spots included within the larger entertainment center, like the Castle of Chaos, Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors, and Shoot for the Stars. That last one is a mini-golf course…as well as the perfect motto for your Branson family vacation.