7 Sites to Explore in the Ozarks of Missouri

Dubbed the Show-Me State, Missouri offers entertainment and fun for the whole family, and visitors especially love the Branson area. You can easily access the many attractions and sites around Branson by staying at Bluegreen Resorts’ Paradise Point in Hollister, The Falls Village™ in Branson, or Bluegreen Wilderness Club at Big Cedar® and The Cliffs™ at Long Creek ™ in Ridgedale. From these resorts, you can visit the award-winning Silver Dollar City theme park or catch a live show at one of Branson’s more than 50 performance venues.

Branson, Ridgedale, and Hollister are surrounded by the beautiful Ozark Mountains, a  paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With lush forests, sparkling lakes and rivers, and more than 6,000 caves, the Ozark Mountains offer endless entertainment. Here are just seven of the must-see sites around Branson in the Ozarks of Missouri:

Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Conservation Area

Just 14 miles outside of Branson, immerse yourself in nature at the Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Conservation Area, a 2,502-acre expanse of creeks and rocky hills. Visitors have access to almost 20 miles of well-marked nature trails that are perfect for biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

Although the creeks are too small for fishing, Busiek State Forest does offer seasonal hunting with a permit. The park also has an unstaffed shooting range that is open to the public. Open year round, Busiek State Forest allows pets on leashes and admission is free.

Table Rock Lake

Table Rock Lake

Image courtesy Doug Wertman | Flickr

One of the most popular destinations in the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake offers nearly 800 miles of shoreline and dazzlingly clear water. You can sunbathe and play volleyball in the soft sands of Moonshine Beach, or escape the crowds and go swimming in the Beaver area on the lake’s southwest corner.

For more fun on the water, rent a pontoon boat from the Indian Point Marina, take a guided tour on the 48-foot catamaran Spirit of America, or go on a SCUBA diving adventure. Table Rock Lake is also famous for being one of the top bass fishing spots in the country, and fishermen frequently catch large bluegill and crappie as well. If you enjoy relaxing on the water, you can book a trip on the Showboat Branson Belle for a two-hour cruise that includes live entertainment and lunch or dinner.

Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area

A free attraction just west of Branson, the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area features more than 1,500 acres of scenic wilderness and an observation tower and lookout with stunning views of the Ozarks. Hikers can explore the steep hills, oak and hickory forests, and open glades on paved or dirt trails dotted with benches.

Also within the conservation area is a permanent stream called Roark Creek, which is a relatively untouched Ozark headwaters stream. Bird watching is popular in the conservation area and four information kiosks explain the habitats in the park.

Marvel Cave

Opened to tourists in 1894, Marvel Cave is one of the Ozark’s most amazing sites and it was first discovered around 1500 by Native Americans of the Osage Tribe, who named the cave Devil’s Den. For hundreds of years, explorers and industrialists ventured into the cave, but it wasn’t until after 1927 that the site was renamed Marvel Cave. An entrepreneurial family went on to develop Silver Dollar City theme park around the opening to Marvel Cave, and the area has since become one of Branson’s most well-known attractions.

During the 60-minute cave tour, you’ll travel 300 feet underground in the wet limestone cave and discover intricate formations that continue to grow and change. The tour starts in the magnificent Cathedral Room, which is the most expansive cave entrance in the country. Led by an experienced cave guide, you will travel over ramps and climb approximately 600 stairs surrounded by carefully lit rock formations. The guide will also provide geological and historical information about Marvel Cave.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Spanning 10,000 acres, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park contains some of the most scenic landscapes in the Ozark Mountains and lies just 30 minutes outside of Branson on the Missouri and Arkansas border. While the park offers a gift shop and other conveniences, it’s known for its rugged terrain, which has remained largely untouched over the years.

You can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, including horseback riding, trout fishing, hiking, and back-country jeep tours. For the aspiring angler, the park maintains a popular fly-fishing school with two-day courses on the picturesque streams that run through the lush forests and meadows in the park.

Lake of the Ozarks

The largest man-made reservoir in Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks is located two hours from the Branson area in the heart of the state. The lake offers more than 1,150 miles of shoreline, with a 92-mile main channel that is ideal for boating, fishing, and sailing.

As part of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, the lake is surrounded by beautiful wooded terrain, with 12 winding trails for hiking and biking. The state park also features the Ozark Caverns, which are open for tours by lantern light.

Fantastic Caverns

Discovered by a farmer and his dog in 1862, Fantastic Caverns is the only cave in America that you can tour by vehicle. The jeep-drawn trams depart every half hour for 60-minute tours of the cave, which is located in Springfield, Missouri.

Open all year, Fantastic Caverns is an all-season destination because the cave remains comfortable year round at about 60 degrees. Fantastic Caverns is the perfect trip for families with young children and people with limited mobility who may not be able to explore some of the other caves in the Ozarks on foot.