Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series and the second one in 2017. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running city that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature the city of Branson, Missouri.
Branson, Missouri, has been renowned for live music shows and attractions in recent decades. However, Branson’s first brush with fame was the natural beauty of the area. It was Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, that brought the first flood of visitors here. More than a century later these Missouri Ozarks still amaze everyone who visits. It started out simply enough, with fishing on the White River, enjoying the outdoors and natural wonders, like Marvel Cave. Then there were music shows to entertain fishermen and their families in the evenings. And entertainment for folks waiting to tour the cave. Today, visitors can enjoy more than 120 live music shows in Branson. And you can still tour that cave — it’s now part of Silver Dollar City, one of the most popular attractions in the entire country.
The list of water sports here is long, and there is still great fishing — Lake Taneycomo (created when the White River was dammed) offers fine trout fishing, and the 52,000-acre Table Rock Lake has world-class bass fishing. There are championship golf courses, wonderful dining destinations, and lodging options range from hotel rooms along Branson’s Hwy. 76 “Strip,” to comfy cabins on Lake Taneycomo, to rustic elegance on Table Rock Lake. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction, Andy Williams Performing Arts Center, Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai, #1 Hits of the 60’s, Legends in Concert, country music, rock ’n’ roll — Branson offers a myriad of entertainment options. And … more than 200 miles of hiking trails!
Branson is situated between Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake. Many trails offer gorgeous views and access to the lakes. Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area is close to Hwy. 76, with easy access to the 140 acres of forest and rugged hills. Lakeside has a total of 4.4 miles of trails. The Bluff Trail is 315 stone steps leading down toward Lake Taneycomo. The steps were built in 1937-38 and require an agile hiker in good shape. There is a cave on the way down; at the bottom, the Bluff Trail winds by a grotto and waterfall, ending at the Old Soldier’s Cave, a hideout during Civil War days. Ridgetop Trail, a fairly easy stroll through forest and glades, boasts large cedar-like trees called Ashe’s Junipers. They have multiple trunks and are unique to the glades. There are sixteen parks developed and maintained by the City of Branson. Several trails, like North Beach Walking Path, offer easier, family-friendly walks and hikes. This path, on the bank of Lake Taneycomo, connects to the Branson Landing boardwalk. North Beach Park has fishing docks, picnic tables, and grills.
Table Rock State Park has three trails on Table Rock Lake. White River Valley Trail System there is a favorite of avid marathoner and trail runner Shane Naugher. He says, “A great variety of single track trails with great scenery and some nice elevation gains in parts of them. Very clearly marked, and multiple connectors allow you to choose how far you want to go … friendly to hikers, mountain bikers, and runners alike.” That trail system is 11.75 miles, with four loops and in 2011 won a national award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails. Table Rock Lakeshore Trail (2.25 miles) winds along the shore of the lake from State Park Marina to Dewey Short Visitor Center, which is adjacent to Table Rock Dam. Chinquapin Trail (1.5 miles) is relatively flat but offers a nice sampling of Ozark woodlands and a glade area with a variety of native grasses and rare wildflowers.
More than 350 species of birds populate Missouri; the Ruth & Paul Henning Conservation Area, just west of Branson, has been designated by Audubon Missouri as an “Important Bird Area.” Missouri is home to hundreds of varieties of trees, and each season offers its own splendid display. In spring, woods and roadsides burst forth with blossoming hawthorn, redbud, plum thickets, and dogwood trees. In autumn they blaze with color along with oak, walnut, buckeye, sassafras … this area of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri is resplendent with wonderful areas to hike and run.
Parking & Transit:
Parking is generally free. In Historic Downtown Branson a trolley offers free rides between Downtown and the Branson Landing. Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area has a 6,000 sq. ft. parking lot made of donated permeable parking lot paver stones.
Environmentally friendly concepts go into planning and maintenance of trails. Table Rock Lake is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. This means there is a limited number of boat docks, etc., on the shore, resulting in an uncluttered, natural shoreline and undisturbed wildlife habitat. Branson has four seasons, but even in winter there are many days perfect for a trail run.
“Hospitality” describes Branson’s culture. Branson has been welcoming visitors since the early part of the 20th century. The city is filled with shops and shows and attractions that have been here for fifty years or more. The Presley’s Country Jubilee, Dick’s 5 & 10, The Shepherd of the Hills, and Silver Dollar City are fine examples. And every year brings new life to the community. The Branson Landing features over one mile of shopping, dining and entertainment. Over the years entertainers famous and not so famous have graced Branson stages. Some of the more well known names in entertainment who will be performing select dates in Branson in 2017 include Kris Kristofferson; Bellamy Brothers; Trace Adkins; Sister Sledge; Charley Pride; Neil Sedaka; Paul Anka; Johnny Mathis; the “Roots & Boots” Tour starring Pam Tillis, Sammy Kershaw, and Collin Raye. “Variety” is another good way to describe Branson’s culture! Entertainers, local business owners — everyone is glad you are here, they want you to enjoy the time you spend in Branson, and they hope you’ll want to return year after year!
“Local Flavor” is found in Historic Downtown Branson where locals and visitors have dined for decades. Whether you want a cup of coffee or need a hearty breakfast or lunch, the Farmhouse Cafe (famous for their blackberry cobbler), Clockers Cafe (breakfast is served all day), and Branson Cafe (opened in 1910, before Branson was a town!) are delicious choices. Vintage Paris is an eclectic coffee shop in Hollister, a couple of minutes from Branson. They serve their own hand-roasted coffee and local pastries. Local art on the walls, comfy couches and chairs give it a cozy atmosphere.
Beer, Wine & Spirits
Drafts Sport Grill is a brewpub with gourmet burgers and multiple high-definition TV screens. Focusing heavily on regional craft breweries, there is a great selection of domestic, craft, and premium beers, as well as a handcrafted cocktail list. There are mouthwatering “Starters,”(smoked pork and brisket sliders, wings, fried pickles, and more…) an Express lunch menu to get you in and out quick on your busy day; and the dinner menu includes St. Louis Barbecued Ribs, Memphis Fried Chicken and Aged Steaks, to name a few. The Paddlewheel Pub on Lake Taneycomo at Branson Landing serves beer, wine, and cocktails, along with a tasty menu that includes choices for the Land Lubber and Captain’s. It’s an entertaining atmosphere on the water, with memorabilia of Branson’s early days on the White River. Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub on the Branson Landing boasts the largest selection of beers and liquors in Branson, including their famous “wall of whisky.” Irish cuisine, too. Crown Valley Distillery offers not only tastings but also a variety of cocktails. Their Bistro features locally sourced food and a new menu for 2017. During tours at Curling Vine Winery visitors can learn how Spumante is made. There are tastings, of course, and a great gift shop. The winery is an offshoot of Stone Hill Winery, with a long history of winemaking in Missouri. Mount Pleasant Estates has Wine 101 classes and you can also bottle your own dessert wine, a perfect souvenir idea. You can purchase wine by the glass or bottle and something to nibble on while you enjoy your wine. There is a rotating display of local art, in cooperation with Branson Arts Council.
Branson has delicious dining options. Dobyns Dining Hall at The Keeter Center on the campus of College of the Ozarks has Ozarks favorites with a contemporary flair. Menu items feature fresh garden ingredients and other products grown and produced on campus. Reservations are required for their popular Sunday Brunch. Danna’s Barbecue is definitely the place to go for savory pulled pork and smoked meats … and their homemade barbecue sauces. At the Grand Village Mel’s Hard Luck Diner with its singing wait staff is diner food at its best, from country-fried steak to ice cream sodas. Chateau on the Lake Resort Spa sits high overlooking Table Rock Lake, and the Chateau Grille is an elegant dining experience. The Atrium Café & Wine Bar there overlooks an indoor waterfall. Level 2 Steakhouse in the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, next to the Branson Landing, is another fine dining experience. It’s easy to find the right spot to fit your appetite and your budget.
Grandma Ruth’s signature cinnamon rolls are loved by people all across the country … and yes, it is Grandma Ruth who makes these mouthwatering treats from scratch and bakes them daily. There are sugar cookies and other sweet treats, too! The Fudge Shop in Downtown Branson is Branson’s oldest candy store, and if your sweet tooth is bothering you, you can remedy it with their creamy, handmade fudge. They even sell it by the foot! Cakes-n-Cream 50’s Diner & Dessert Parlor has a fun and varied menu but the desserts are the centerpiece. The funnel cake is their signature dessert but their cakes, their three-inch meringue pies get rave reviews as well. It’s all served up in an atmosphere of Wurlitzer jukeboxes and 45’s. Andy’s Frozen Custard always has a crowd of folks waiting to order their amazing treats. Everyone has a favorite and there are delicious seasonal treats as well. Andy’s started in Missouri and now has locations in six other states. Sugar Leaf Bakery & Café in the Grand Village Shops is a lovely café that serves made-to-order salads like Spinach & Strawberry, a nice variety of Panini sandwiches, quiche … AND cakes, cookies, cobblers and muffins that are every bit as gorgeous as they are delicious.
The Branson Chamber and Convention & Visitors Bureau is conveniently located just off Hwy. 65 on the north side of Branson and offers person-to-person assistance on just about everything. And you don’t have to look far to find a brochure rack loaded with information.
Trail Sharing & Competition:
October 1, 2017, will mark the Second Annual Run Grand Country, which offers a 5K and a half marathon. Sponsored by Grand Country Waterpark Resort, proceeds benefit the Branson Education Foundation. Scholarships and grants aid children from pre-school through college. Run Grand Country begins and ends at the Fountains at Branson Landing and takes runners over and through several trails.
Trail Runs at Dogwood Canyon are popular competitions, from 15K to 50K. Dogwood Canyon is 10,000 pristine acres of woods, trout streams, hand-built bridges, waterfalls.
In just the last two years, 1.3 miles of new trails were completed in the Lakeside Forest Wilderness area. The parking area there, made of the permeable paver stones, is a good example of how the area strives to preserve and protect natural resources.