Once-remote Branson (population 3,700), just miles from the Arkansas border in southwestern Missouri, has grown into one of the nation’s prime tourist attractions in the past decade.
It first gained national attention in the early 1900s, thanks to Harold Bell Wright’s best-selling novel, \”The Shepherd of the Hills.\” The book’s homespun characters and Ozark-hill setting intrigued many Americans at a time when the country’s population was growing increasingly urban and separated from its rural roots.
Branson’s main drawing card today is its music scene. The section of two-lane State Route 76W that traverses Branson is known as 76 Country Boulevard or “The Strip.” More than a dozen music theaters host top regional and national artists from May through October. While the emphasis is on country music, other styles are also offered, including jazz, rock, gospel, and pop.
When not attending concerts, visitors to Branson can browse its many craft and antique shops and markets. There is also an old-fashioned dry goods store and a modern factory outlet mall.
Among the half-dozen or so annual festivals is the National Festival of Craftsmen, from early September to late October. From spring through fall, visitors can see sound and light shows, take cruises and bus tours, and visit amusement parks. The Stone Hill Winery in Branson is open year-round.
Visitors interested in learning about old-fashioned Ozark lifestyles can visit the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, 2 miles west of Branson on State Route 76W. The working homestead has a preserved cabin, as well as a sawmill, smithy, and other shops. Guided tours are supplemented by shows, games, crafts, and scenic lookouts. There is also an outdoor amphitheater, where, nightly from late April through October, the novel’s characters are brought to life.
The homestead complex itself is open from April to December. Three miles further west is Silver Dollar City, a combination of a historical pioneer village and a modern theme park. Roller coaster and water rides amuse thrill seekers, while those with a penchant for history or craftsmanship can watch artisans demonstrate traditional skills such as woodcarving and blacksmithing.
The park fee includes admission to Marvel Cave, whose 3 miles of passageways lie beneath the complex. Silver Dollar City is open almost continuously from April through December.
Popular activities at the three closest lakes include boating, swimming, fishing, and scuba diving. The visitor center has exhibits about area ecology and it is a good place to see bald eagles from November through December.
Houseboat rentals are also available at Table Rock Lake. An old-fashioned river showboat takes visitors on breakfast, lunch, and dinner cruises from the end of March to mid-December. An equally relaxing way to see the countryside is on the Branson Scenic Railway, which takes visitors on a 40-mile round trip through the Ozark foothills, from mid-March to mid-December.
The city of Springfield, 45 miles north on Hwy 65, has the closest airport. Branson is also serviced by buses.