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Five free "family friendly" things to do in Branson

by Gary Groman aka The Ole Seagull
published: Apr 5, 2009
Free Discovery Trolley leaves historic downtown
Branson  on loop to Branson Landing about every
15 minutes.

In these economic times, families on vacation are looking for ways to stretch their travel dollars farther. An article entitled, “Branson listed third most budget friendly destination in America,” published on line in this publication, indicates the decision to come to Branson for a vacation or getaway is one step in the right direction. But, even in a value destination like Branson, there are free things families can do that will add even more value and stretch their vacation dollars farther.

The following is not meant to be an all inclusive of all the free activities available in Branson. It is however, a list of five different and unique, free, and “family friendly” activities that families can share together while in Branson that can add variety, fun, and memories to their Branson experience.

1. Edwards Mill at College of the Ozarks – This is an actual working grist mill on the campus of the College of the Ozarks and is powered by a twelve foot water wheel driven by water flowing from Lake Honor in the center of the campus. Students working at the mill actually grind flower and meal that is used on the campus and is available for sale at the mill, in the gift shop, and on line.

A weaving studio is located on the upper floor of the mill. Students use traditional floor looms to produce hand woven placemats and coasters that are sold by the College in the gift shop and on line.

2. Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery – The hatchery is operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation and produces both Rainbow and Brown Trout for not only Lake Taneycomo but other state trout fishing facilities. The best way to experience the hatchery is by starting at the Visitors Center located at the foot of Table Rock Dam and reachable just off of State Highway 165 just north of the dam.

The Visitor Center features a display of wildflowers and plants indigenous to the area as well as a nature display and a short video on the hatchery and the process of producing the trout that makes Lake Taneycomo one of the premier trout fisheries in the nation. There is also a huge aquarium with some “lunker” Brown and Rainbow Trout indicating the size of some of the trout in Lake Taneycomo. The Visitor Center opens at 9:00 a.m. every day except, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Branson Landing Boardwalk looking south toward
the “home port” of the “Branson Landing Princess”
and the river boat replica, “Lake Queen.”

3. Branson Landing Boardwalk – Although there are many free hiking opportunities in the Branson area, one that is very accessible to everyone, is level and very family friendly is the scenic paved boardwalk running 1.5 miles along Lake Taneycomo. Parking is available right off Branson Landing Boulevard in either the Belk or Bass Pro parking lots. Walk east toward Lake Taneycomo and you can’t miss it. The leisurely and level walk will provide a view of Branson Landing that most people never see, such as the beautiful landscaping between the east side of the landing’s buildings and the lake.

The walk will pass the Branson Landing Fountains and the docking facilities of Branson Landing Cruises, the “home port” of the “Branson Landing Princess” and the river boat replica, “Lake Queen.” Along the way there will be the opportunity to observe the boat traffic and activity on the lake and an excellent chance to observe various species of ducks, Canada Geese, Grey Herons, Black or Turkey Vultures (buzzards), an occasional Bald Eagle and other birds and water fowl.

4. Branson Landing Fountain Show – Branson Landing’s Fountains are located at the heart of Branson Landing at the foot of the “Town Square” on the Lake Taneycomo Lakefront. The fountains are a part of the spectacular $7.5 million water, fire, and light and music show. Weather and maintenance permitting the show is presented hourly on the hour starting at noon each day. Even during daylight hours, it is truly amazing to see and hear the bursts from the vertical “ fire canons” coordinated with fountains shooting geysers of water up to 120 feet in the air all musically choreographed, but add darkness and the lights and it becomes spectacular.

The Branson Landing Fountain show is an excellent item to combine with numbers 3 and 5 on the list or a simply a walk up and down the Branson Landing Promenade. Although weather and seasonally dependent, Branson Landing also has “street performers,” singers, clowns, etc. entertaining up and down the promenade during the vast majority of the “season.”

5. Historic Downtown Branson’s Discovery Trolley – The green trolleys run a 15 minute loop through Historic Downtown Branson and the length and breadth of Branson Landing. The trolleys stops can be boarded in Historic Downtown Branson at Commercial and Main Street, and two blocks south at Commercial and College Street or at Branson Landing at the Bass Pro Shops parking lot and Belk department store parking lot near the parking lot end of their respective buildings.

The ride provides an excellent way to get an overview of the historic downtown area, Branson Landing, the Branson Convention Center and to see Lake Taneycomo. Along the way you will pass Branson’s first theatre, the Owens Theatre and the spot where the first show in Branson performed, the “Baldknobbers Jubilee” and the grave of the man the city of Branson is named after Ruben S. Branson.

Passengers can get on and off at any stop. With the convenient 15 minute loop the trolley makes, it easy for those shopping down at Branson Landing to take the trolley up to the historic district to experience its unique shopping and restaurants and vice versa. It should be noted that although there is no time limit on parking at Branson Landing there is a two hour limit for the vast majority of the free parking in Historic Downtown Branson.


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