Branson - Attractions
Branson Scenic Railway
Riding through Branson in a glass-topped railroad car is a good way to take in the beauty of the Ozark region. The Branson Scenic Railway travels on a 40mi (64km) route from downtown Branson to Galena and back again, crossing over Lake Tanycomo via a long steel arch trestle, travelling through tunnels and into the Ozark foothills. A commentary is provided during the 100-minute trip, so you can learn a little about the history of the area while travelling through it. You can also stroll through the train's variety of cars and see the different styles and features of the fleet from the 1940s and 50s. On Saturdays a Dinner Train excursion is offered. The train departs from the 1906 Old Depot at 206 East Main St, Downtown Branson.
For most visitors, this is what modern day Branson is all about. The 7mi (11km) stretch of Missouri State Hwy 76 is the economic backbone of the city - with over 50 theatres, 70 plus hotels and motels, and over 60 restaurants. The neon-lit strip is also home to shopping outlets, amusement parks, wax museums and other suitably cheesy tourist attractions. Look out for the 47ft (14m) long neck of the world's largest banjo jutting through the window of the Grand Country Market - it's the city's very own Eiffel Tower. Travelling treasure hunters, mostly retirees and families, jam all four lanes of the road from April to September.
When tourism to the area began increasing in the 1960s, 'The Strip' only had a few scattered shops and five music shows. However the cancellation of the Missouri Pacific's White River Line meant that most visitors were forced to arrive by motor vehicle. This in turn led to roadwork and new expanded highways and bypass routes. In 1957 the first music show opened; by the 1980s show numbers had increased to 16 and today they now exceed 80. National Country stars like Roy Clark were the first to realize the potential of the area, and Roy gave his name to a theatre. Now the names on the theatres read like a musical who's who and include Wayne Newton, the Osmonds, Charlie Pride, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis and Andy Williams amongst many others. With 61,714 theatre seats, the city boasts more seats than New York City's Broadway district - now that's entertainment.
Shepherd of the Hills Homestead & Outdoor Theater
You may have read the book or seen the John Wayne version of the film but here's your chance to see the play in the setting in which it was written. Harold Bell Wright's 1907 semi-biographical tale of Ozark life, The Shepherd of the Hills, is played out in this outdoor evening production. The amphitheatre is built on the actual setting where Wright lived as he wrote this Ozarkian epic of triumph, tragedy and love. The book is brought to life with over 80 actors, 40 horses, a flock of sheep, guns and rifles, a burning log cabin and a vintage 1908 DeWitt automobile. During the day, guests can tour the actual log house where Wright first experienced Ozark hospitality, ride in wagons pulled by huge Clydesdale horses, watch artisans at work and explore the Ozark village, which after dark becomes the stage for the show. The play first opened in 1959 and has become the longest running outdoor drama ever performed. The theatre is at 5586 West Hwy 76 and performances run from early spring to the end of October.
Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City is situated at Marvel Cave, one of the Ozarks' oldest attractions and a designated US National Landmark. Earliest written records of the cave date to 1869 when a mining expedition explored the area, looking unsuccessfully for lead. The cave was purchased in 1884 and mined for its guano or bat manure. Mining operations soon folded once the guano was depleted and in 1889 the cave and surrounding area was privately purchased with a view to opening it up to sightseers. It officially opened in 1900 and has remained open ever since, making it one of the oldest continuously running tourist attractions in the Ozarks.
Over the years improvements included adding a train which hauled visitors 218ft (66m) from the depths of the cave to the surface. The operation continued to expand with the creation of an Ozark frontier town on the land surrounding the cave. Named Silver Dollar City, it originally contained a few shops, a church, a log cabin and street theatre. Today the theme park spreads over 61ac (25ha) and is dedicated to preserving 1880s Ozark culture. On site are nearly 100 craftsmen demonstrating glass-blowing, basket weaving, candy making, blacksmithing, pottery, candle making, and other disciplines. Befitting its tag as one of the most successful theme parks in the country, there are also a host of rides and attractions, unique shops and restaurants, over 50 shows daily and four major annual festivals held here. Now costing more than a silver dollar to enter, Silver Dollar City is at 7347 West Hwy 76 (399 Indian Point Road); opening hours are seasonal.