In August, 2021, our family of 5 (mom, dad, 11yo boy, 8yo boy, 6yo girl) took a week-long trip to Branson, MO and had a great family summer vacation. To highlight the trip and help other families build an itinerary, here are some details of the trip.
Day 1- Saturday: Drive and Bass Pro Shops
Left NW Iowa at 8am and ate a picnic lunch in the van on the way. It was 93 degrees and the van had some trouble with A/C which we know know could have been avoided if we’d known to use the “recycle air” button next to the A/C to keep the cool air in the van instead of pulling in hot air to cool.
We stopped at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO from 4:00-5:30pm which was pretty cool- they have a HUGE moose statue and lots of taxidermy animals on display, turtles, and a whole section that seems like you’re at the bottom of a lake. Worth a stop. We did not got to the Wonders of Life aquarium next door as it seemed pretty expensive, and did not stop at Lambert’s Cafe (home of throwed rolls) on this trip just because we didn’t come through during a meal time.
We drove on to Branson and checked into our AirBnB at Notch Estates. This is listed as “Silver Dollar Refuge” in Reeds Spring, MO and that was a perfect description! It was a terrific spot for our family–very spacious. 3 beds in the kids room so they each had their own, room for 5 at the dining table (things I looked long and hard for) and a perfect quiet location that was near Walmart (I did a big grocery run the night we arrived) and very close to Silver Dollar City. It had a small catch and release pond (too hot while we were there) and 2 pools with nice deck and shade. Highly recommmend!
Day 2 – Sunday – Silver Dollar City/Marvel Cave
We opted to buy a 3-day 2-park pass directly from Silver Dollar City and feel like we definitely got our money’s worth. We arrived at SDC before opening so we could watch the tribute to Veteran’s and then hit the popular rides in the morning: Fire in the Hold, PowderKeg, American Plunge, Swings, watched the Harlem Globetrotter’s show in A/C, Flooded Mine. Went back to the condo for lunch and to cool off. Came back and waited in line for the Marvel Cave tour (you do need to get in line early!). The cave was awesome! A huge cavern that they once flew 3 hot air balloons in! After the cave we did Thunderation, played at Fireman’s Landing, ate supper in the park then listened to the Eastern Heights concert, watching fireworks from Echo Hollow until 9:30pm.
Day 3 – Monday – Buffalo River in AR
After a big breakfast, we drove 2 hours to the Buffalo River past Yellville, AR. Very windy roads!! The outfitters we used were a little rough around the edges but there were several other options. We really had a great day slowly floating down the river, stopping to explore caves and rock formations. Highly recommend water shoes because it is rocky! Stayed at the beach where our van was parked, then drove back with a stop at Sonic in Yellville. Swam in the pool that night. If you get a chance to float the Buffalo River, do it!
Day 4 – Tuesday – White Water Water Park / Pizza Ranch / Sights & Sounds Theater
As part of our 3-day pass, we could visit the White Water Water park. Had a fun time–kids liked the wave pool the best. The lazy river kept closing and some of the slide lines were long.
We were ready to go by 3pm and we headed to the Pizza Ranch Buffet & FunZone Arcade since it has buffet all day and Tuesday you can get a free Kid’s Buffet with each Adult’s buffet. Great food and had fun playing in the arcade.
While there, we made a last-minute decision to buy tickets to the Jesus show at the Sights & Sounds theater. The show was amazing with a great cast, incredible set and even live animals. Highly recommend going to see whatever they are showing!
Day 5 – Wednesday – Hatchery / Ballparks of America / Branson Belle
We visited the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery and checked out the public fishing spot nearby (didn’t fish, but fun to skip rocks). Tip: bring quarters AND A SOLO CUP for fish food so you don’t have to hold it in your hands! It is also closed Sun & Mon! The hatchery was okay (nothing like Spearfish) but I think a few things were closed due to high covid cases at the time.
My husband and oldest son then caught a Little League game at Ballparks of America (right by White Water Water park) while the rest of us swam.
Then we all dressed up for dinner and a show on the Branson Belle. The boat never actually left the dock due to high winds, but it was still fun. Food wasn’t as good as I’d remembered, but a fun experience and the mentalist (Christopher James) was fascinating. We had seen a deal where you could call to add Branson Belle tickets to your Silver Dollar City tickets, so check if that deal is available.
Day 6 – Thursday – Silver Dollar City
Since we’d been here before, we now knew what rides we really wanted to do again. This time we did Mystic River Falls (go at park open for shorter lines), Fire in the Hole, PowderKeg, Tom & Huck Water Blast, American Plunge and the Frisco Train. Then home for lunch and to change into dry clothes (we did all water rides in the morning and it was hot enough we didn’t mind being wet, but changing was a good idea). In the afternoon we saw Sadie’s Wild West River, all the Grand Exposition rides (great for those middle kids who don’t love the huge thrill rides), Fireman’s Landing (they loved the ball room where you shoot from air guns and collect foam balls), PowderKeg.
We left and ate summer at home because we had tickets to Hamner’s Unbelievable Family Variety Show that night. The show was a little past-it’s-prime and the low ticket price was reflective of quality. The kids did like the aerialist and the guy on a giant ring. But our 6yo fell asleep in the front row and we were too close to the magic and could see many of the “tricks”. The singers catered to a much older crowd (Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonation??). I’d choose something different, but we were probably spoiled by the quality of the Jesus show.
Day 7 – Friday – Copperhead Mountain Coasters / Branson Landing / Dolly Parton’s Stampede
We went to Copperhead Mountain Coasters first thing in the morning to avoid the lines. We each did 2 rides and really liked it. Our 11-yo’d favorite part of the trip. I had purchased BOGO tickets online in advance from bransonshows.com but you have to pick up your tickets on the strip when you arrive (got the Hamner’s tix there too). It was one of those high pressure “book all your tix” places once you walked in, but I held firm because I’d already booked all our other tickets directly for cheaper. So, do your research on best place to buy and whether it’s worth the hassle picking up on the strip.
We went down to Branson Landing and saw the fountain’s (okay, but not worth a whole trip) and walked through Bass Pro Shop. We weren’t in the mood for much other shopping and weren’t planning to eat out, so we headed home to swim.
Then we cleaned up to go to Dolly Parton’s Stampede. You get to see the horses while in line and have a full meal and show. This was very fun and our daughter even got picked to do the Chicken Chase and won a medal for the North. Hwy 76 traffic was horrible after the show so we recommend taking the backroad when you can! We actually avoided the strip at night except for this night.
Day 8 – Saturday – Drive Home
We left by 8:30am and didn’t make many interesting stops on the way home–just Culvers past Kansas City, gas in Missouri Valley, and stopped in Sioux City for FB cleats and got home after 6 in time to unpack, make supper, get groceries. Glad we had Sunday to recover because my husband started school that Monday!
Things we didn’t do:
There is so much to do in Branson, so here are some ideas of things we didn’t do on this trip:
- Table Rock Lake (didn’t swim or boat like most people do)
- Fritz Adventure – Ropes course, zipline, climbing, etc. We already had our itinerary planned before finding out about this place but would have loved it. I’ve known other who recommended!
- Mini Golf/Bumper Boats/Go Carts – seemed to be a lot on the strip but it was so hot in August
- Hiking/Waterfalls – again, so hot in August
- Tourist attractions like Titanic Museum, many others on the Strip
- Shopping like at Tanger Outlets, Dick’s 5 and Dime. Kids each picked 1 souvenir at SDC.
- Dining out–we cooked a lot of our meals at the condo except when dinner was included with the attraction, one night at SDC, Pizza Ranch buffet (which was our lunch and supper) and the drive home. This saves us a lot of $ as a family of 5. We also brought waterbottles and snacks wherever we were allowed to.