Ultimate Branson Travel Guide: What Not to Do

things to do in Branson

I may be biased, but I think southwest Missouri is such a beautiful part of the country! I grew up in Springfield, Missouri and have spent many summer weekends down at Table Rock Lake. I pulled together a travel guide to help you experience the beauty of the Ozarks like a local instead of a tourist. Enjoy your Branson travel guide and learn what to do (and not to do!).

Your locals guide to Branson, here’s what you should do!

You may have heard of Branson before and think of a touristy nightmare. But I promise, there is so much more to the area than the Branson shows, museums, gimmicky shops and basic hotels! I like to compare it to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN. Branson and Pigeon Forge are very similar. But then 20 mins away near Gatlinburg you have Smoky Mountain National Park, with so much beautiful nature to enjoy and explore! This is similar to Branson and Table Rock Lake. The tourists do the Branson strip, the locals enjoy the beauty surrounding it that is the Ozarks.


Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar is a rustic resort right on Table Rock Lake. They have a plethora of accommodations ranging from private cottages and cabins, a hotel-like lodge and their newest offering: glamping. The grounds are extensive, offering a fitness center, pools and hot tubs. They have a marina for boat rentals, golf courses, as well as several restaurants on site.

*Did you know? Johnny Morris, a Springfield, MO native, is the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops. He has a passion for the outdoors and preservation, and also founded Big Cedar Lodge.

Notice this whiskey barrel planter? I sure did! See how I used mine in my backyard makeover here.

Emerald Pointe Condos

During our most recent trip we stayed at a condo in the Emerald Pointe complex. The subdivision is large, with various condo and townhouse options. The complex is right on the lake, and only about an 8 minute drive from Big Cedar and Top of the Rock. Our unit was a 4 bed, 4 bath, but they have accommodation options from 2, 3 and 4 bed and bath. The subdivision includes a fitness center, pool, grill area, and Branson Bay marina with a dock for day use. We booked our unit through VRBO.


Big Cedar’s Top of the Rock

Part of Big Cedar Lodge is Top of the Rock which includes a golf course, cave and nature trail, natural history museum, chapel, civil ware era cabin, wine cellar, and three restaurants. To enter, there is a $10 fee per car. If you enter before 4 pm, $5 may be used as a voucher toward food or tour services. You have the option to park in the free lot and take a trolley to the property or pay for valet. We rode the trolley in, and learned snippets and facts about the property from the driver.

Once at Top of the Rock, we started at the bottom level and got a drink in the cellar. They have a good wine and whiskey list- a bit on the pricier side. We took a walk down to the chapel, and went to the deck of the second story to take in the views at the Buffalo Bar. Our reservation was on the third floor inside at Osage. At sunset, they have a bagpipe player and set off a cannon as the sun sinks below the hills.  

Osage, named after the American Indians who inhabited the region of Branson 10,000 years ago, is the “fine dining” option. I would recommend making reservations in advance. They have a good menu with great bread and butter to start (no judgement- this is usually one of my favorite parts of a meal). I would recommend the lamb or steak as an entree, while the creamed corn was the best shareable side we ordered.  

Arnie’s Barn is another restaurant option at Top of the Rock, offering contemporary Mexican food. The story behind the barn is neat- it was built in honor of golf great Arnold Palmer. The 150 year old barn was carefully transported from his hometown of Latrobe, PA and reassembled by local Amish craftsmen at its current location at Top of the Rock.

I have always had a great experience here, and honestly enjoy it more than Osage. Don’t sleep on the street corn, it’s what dreams are made of. See the rest of their menu here.


Rent a boat 

Getting out on beautiful Table Rock Lake is a must. Table Rock Lake is man made, and covers more than 50,000 acres with nearly 800 miles of shoreline. You can’t beat the picturesque views of the clear water and rolling Ozark Mountains in the background. Get out and cruise, water ski, tube, stand up paddle board, wakeboard. The possibilities are endless, and this is a great lake for water sports.

Here’s a little history lesson about the origins of the lake. The village of Oasis used to be about where Branson is today. It was a popular destination for people coming to fish the White River. In 1957, it suffered a severe flood. Afterward, the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers created the Table Rock Dam across the White River in 1958 for flood control and to generate hydroelectric power. To this day, the small town of Oasis is underneath the lake. Fun fact: the old Hwy 13 bridge is still 100-140 ft underwater! The underwater village has become a popular dive for experienced scuba divers.

If you aren’t big on things under the water, don’t let this deter you!! I have been going to the lake for over 20 years and didn’t know this until recently. Neat tidbits for history buffs, but you can ignore that information if it’s not your thing.

Branson Boat Rental Options

-State Park Marina

Indian Point Marina

-Long Creek Marina

*Note: you do need a boaters license to operate a water vehicle in Missouri 

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is located right outside Branson in Lampe, Missouri. The area has 10,000 acres of hiking, biking, wildlife tours, horseback riding, trout fishing, waterfalls, creeks, bridges and wildlife. It is a must see if you love to explore nature in a well preserved park.

Photo credit: @Dogwood_Canyon


Branson Landing

Although not in the original plans, due to rainy and stormy weather affecting our boat reservation we spent the day at the Branson Landing. The Branson Landing is a large, walkable outdoor mall known for its Bellagio style fire and fountain show every hour.

Photo credit: @Bransonlanding

We have never had a bad meal at Cantina Laredo, but there are lots of other options too. Most of the restaurants here are chains except for Black Oak Grill, which I’ve heard good things about. If you are interested in activities besides shopping, they have a new (or at least new to me) Tiki Bar overlooking Lake Taneycomo. Andy B’s has lots of entertainment options as well, including Escape Rooms, an inside/outside bar, Karaoke Room and bowling. We rented a Karaoke room for 30 mins and had a ball.  

Tanger Outlet Mall

I’m sure you’ve been to or heard of Tanger outlet malls before, and Branson has one as well if you like to shop. It has evolved over the years, but still remains good shopping. See their website here for location and store options.

Amusement Parks

Silver Dollar City 

Ok, so I may not have been to all of the theme parks in the country to make me quaified to voice this opinion, but I think the internationally awarded Silver Dollar City is the best there is. The theme park open March to January is set in the 1880’s, honoring the mining town it that used to stand there. The park originated around the attraction of Marvel Cave, which is now a Registered National Landmark. Touring the cave is included in the price of your ticket today.

In addition to cave beneath the theme park, Silver Dollar City has rides for everyone. Large rollercoasters, barn swings, lost rivers, arcade style shoot outs. Oh, and did I mention the food? It’s exceptional. It is so easy to stay in the park from opening time to closing, and there is something for everyone to enjoy. In addition to overt 40 rides, you will find demonstrations from artisans, wood carvers, potters, candy makers, glassblowers, and blacksmiths to add to the park’s theme.

Photo Credit: @Sdcattractions

White Water

While we are on the topic of amusement parks, I can’t leave out the 13 acre nearby water park White Water. Open during the summer, it’s great for those hot days. There are day and multi-day passes you can purchase that include both Silver Dollar City and White Water.

Catch an outdoor concert at Black Oak Amphitheater

There is nothing better than an outdoor concert. This venue is beautiful, set with the Ozark Mountains and Table Rock Lake in the distance. As the world is opening back up, they have a summer concert series that would be great to plan your trip around. I have been to a few country concerts here, and it’s always the best time. Make sure and check it out to see who’s playing here. I should also mention to prepare to tailgate and have a fun party in the parking lot beforehand!


I am by no means an expert on this one, but I know there are lots of beautiful golf courses in Branson and the surrounding areas! There are some world renowned courses at Top of the Rock, but know you will be paying top dollar and have to book far in advance. Last year Tiger Woods designed Payne Valley as a tribute to the late Payne Stewart of Missouri. As you can imagine, this course has everyone talking.

For a more affordable round, I’ve heard Thousand Hills Golf Resort is nice as well. Onsite they have options to stay as well including lodges, cabins and condos.

I hope I’ve shown you a variety of things to do in this beautiful part of the country. There is truly something for everyone, and it’s a low key long weekend destination that is both achievable and affordable. Get outside, enjoy some friendly locals, and welcome to the Ozarks.


Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my other travel guides here!


-Portsmouth, New Hampshire

-Acadia National Park, Maine

-Portland, Maine

-Newport, Rhode Island


-Memphis, Tennessee

Oxford, Mississippi

-Shreveport, Louisiana

-New Orleans, Louisiana

-The Florida Keys

-Miami, Florida


-Green Bay, Wisconsin

-Branson, Missouri

-Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

-Omaha, Nebraska


-Bozeman, Montana

-Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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