Weekenders: Day Tripping From Branson

Head outside town for ziplining, flying dinner rolls, a float on an Ozark river, antiquing and more.

By Amy Bowers Gordy

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.

Springfield, Missouri

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 seven 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. Reservations are recommended.

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 during their 10th-anniversary season, which runs from April 3 through September 1, 2014.

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 three rivers and two 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 six.

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 five-mile trail with an elevation change of 1,100 feet. A shorter path can be found by accessing a trail one 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 three-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 state.

EXPLORE
Branson Zipline & Canopy Tours
2339 U.S. Hwy. 65, Walnut Shade, MO; 800-712-4654; bransonzipline.com; tickets from $40
Buffalo Outdoor Center
1 Main St. (Hwy. 43), Ponca, AR; 870-861-5514; buffaloriver.com
First Friday Art Walk
Springfield, MO; ffaw.org
Hammons Field
955 E. Trafficway St., Springfield, MO; 417-863-0395; springfieldcardinals.com
Hemmed-in Hollow Trail
Compton, AR; buffaloriver.com
Lost Valley Canoe
Ponca, AR; 870-861-5522; lostvalleycanoe.com; rentals from $45 a day
Mother’s Brewing Company
215 S. Grant Ave., Springfield, MO; 417-862-0423; mothersbrewing.com
Whitaker Point Trail
Hwy. 21 S., Boxley Valley, Ponca, AR; buffaloriver.com
White River Family Fishing
708 Central Blvd., Bull Shoals, AR; 870-405-8215; whiteriverfamilyfishing.com; two-hour tours from $80 a person
SHOP
Bass Pro Shops
1935 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield, MO; 417-887-7334; basspro.com
Country Home Antiques
4154 Hwy. 62 E., Mountain Home, AR; 870-421-5566
Fresh Gallery
400 W. Walnut St., Springfield, MO; 417-862-9300; freshgallery.org
Gift-Tiques
10413 U.S. 62, E. Cotter, AR; 870-453-4438
Good Girl Art Gallery
325 E. Walnut St., Springfield, MO; 417-865-7055
Randy Bacon Gallery
600 W. College St., Springfield, MO; 417-868-8179; randybacon.com
Remember When Antiques
5655 Hwy. 62 E., Mountain Home, AR; 870-492-4551
Rob’s Flea Market
6045 U.S. 62 W., Gassville, AR; 870-430-2430
EAT
Blackbird Café
300 Library Hill, Mountain Home, AR; 870-405-8236; blackbirdcafemh.com; lunch for two, $20*
Lambert’s Cafe II
1800 W. Hwy. J, Ozark, MO; 417-581-7655; throwedrolls.com; lunch for two, $40
KT’s Smokehouse
406 E. Main St., Gassville, AR; 870-435-5080; dinner for two, $25
Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Café
1012 Hwy. 62, Harrison, AR; 870-741-6455; neighborsmill.com; lunch for two, $20
STAY
RCI affiliated resorts near Branson include:
Branson’s Nantucket C340
Luxurious accommodations with convenient access to live entertainment and Silver Dollar City. 2837 State Hwy. 265, Branson
Member Review: “Our stay at this resort was by far one of the most relaxing.”
The Suites at Fall Creek 3037
A fully equipped lakeside property surrounded by the picturesque White River Basin. 1 Fall Creek Dr., Branson
Member Review: “Easy to get to attractions.”
Wyndham Branson at the Meadows 3294
A child-friendly resort in a serene wooded setting. 110 Willow Bend Dr., Branson
Member Review: “The accommodations were top-notch, updated, with all the luxuries of home.”
Silverleaf’s Holiday Hills 1004
Premier golf facilities and panoramic views of the Ozark Mountains, just moments from Lake Taneycomo. 2380 E. Hwy. 76, Branson
Member Review: “Very close to downtown Branson, yet off the beaten path.”
French Quarter 5824
Five minutes from Branson landmarks, including the IMAX® Entertainment Complex and the Mickey Gilley Theater. 3706 W. Hwy. 76, Branson
Member Review: “Spacious, nicely decorated and well maintained.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
Chateau on the Lake
415 N. Hwy. 265, Branson; 888-333-5253; chateauonthelake.com; doubles from $169 a night

Emory Creek B&B
143 Arizona Dr., Branson; 800-362-7404; emorycreekbnb.com; doubles from $129 a night
Buffalo Outdoor Center
1 Main St., Hwy. 43, Ponca, AR; 870-861-5514; buffaloriver.com; cabins from $129 a night
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch
HC 70 Box 261, Jasper, AR; 800-480-9635; horseshoecanyonduderanch.com; cabins from $217 a night per adult, including all meals
Lost Valley Canoe & Lodging
Hwy. 43, Ponca, AR; 870-861-5522; lostvalleycanoe.com; cabins from $115 a night
  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Summer 2014