Honestly, we were skeptical of our time in the Branson area and we were very surprised by how much we liked it!
We had conjured in our mind various “tourist” strips like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg because of our previous experiences there. Branson seemed different, while the tourist “strip” does exist in the same way as those others it was much smaller and was only one of the many attractions in the area. We share an interest in trains, dams, lakes, rivers, caves, and just driving the countryside to experience what different regions are like across the nation.
We made the decision to spend three weeks in the Branson area because of timing, to avoid going too far North too early in the spring. As you may remember from the previous Alabama post we had already seen snow this season and were not looking for a repeat! The weather in the Branson area in early April is amazing, in the morning you will need a light jacket and in the afternoon you can easily be enjoying shorts weather. We had on and off rainy spells throughout the entire time, by the end of our stay everything was starting to green up and spring was springing.
In our next post, we will share our experiences at the Disney Family Museum and Fantastic Caverns in Northern Missouri!
Turkey Creek – Escapees RV Park
As Escapees Members we have made it a point to use the “Escapees RV Parks” campgrounds with member discounted nightly rates. They are not “member-only” campgrounds, the public can book out sites like anyone else. But with the Escapees/Xscapers discounts being so good so why not join? The price of the annual membership is paid back in just a few nights.
There are several RV properties outside of Branson and this is one that is across the river in Hollister, Missouri. Access from the state highways is not too bad, however, you will want to come up from the south if you do not like roundabouts. The roundabout is fine, one of the largest and strongest we have ever seen.
|Site(s)||Our initial site was G9, but then we moved to H9 because we did not fit in G9|
|Starting Date||March 20, 2022|
|Ending Date||April 10, 2022|
|Total Nights||19 – we were off-site at SMORR for 1 night, and we left a day early to overnight at a Harvest Host on our way north|
|Total Cost||$408.06 with a combination of member rates and weekly rates|
This is an older RV park and the spaces are tight because of that. We by far were one of the larger rigs in the park and we had some issues with parking. In fact, we had to even move to a new site because the front of our motorhome was out in the driveway. The staff probably had to juggle dozens of reservations to open a space for us for three weeks. They were great about it and we were happy to not have to move more than once. Due to CoVID, the facilities were starting to open up and the wintering seasonals were having impromptu events to say goodbye to the season.
The park has multiple terraces from the river up and we were on the lower river level terrace. We had several days of rain and we were watching the paddling ducks get closer and closer to the RV as the water level rose. The water receded just as fast as it came up and there was no real concern. The river is very busy with people fishing and kayaking. Hollister has an outfitter that rents equipment, so you will see many people trying to figure it out.
There are many options depending on your liking. There is the popular Silver Dollar City theme park, dinner shows like the Dixie Stampede, and a variety of natural options throughout the area. You can even get “fresh” and “squeaky” Wisconsin cheese!
Branson Scenic Railway
Across the river from the Turkey Creek RV Park are the rail tracks that the Branson Scenic Railway travels on several times a day. It was hard to resist this taunting and we gave in to the temptation. Jason was able to take a weekday off to explore the area and we took their morning tour train. At the time of the tour, you will find out whether you are going North or South from the depot. This is depending on what freight traffic is on the line too. On our day we went South out of Branson. The tour trains have a narration about the area and you see the Ozarks from a different perspective. At the farthest south point we stopped on a tall trestle bridge while the crew prepared to run in the other direction.
The train does not run all year long, it does pause after the Christmas trains are done until around April when they pick up for the season again. The conductor was new on the job the last month and he was really talkative by sitting down with everyone to chat. This is a private operation, it is not operated by volunteers.
We do recommend you check this out!
Table Rock Lake
The Table Rock Lake area is a substantial natural attraction in the area. Driving around the lake is at least a half-day event or more depending on your stops.
A free Army Corps of Engineers visitor center is at the Table Rock Lake Dam on the Southwest side of the lake. Inside there are many interesting interactive exhibits about what the Corp does for flood control in general and the history of this dam specifically. There is also an observation platform overlooking the dam and lake.
Southwestern Missouri Off Road Ranch
One of the major reasons for coming to the area was the Southwestern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR) is just under an hour’s drive from Branson. There are several challenging Jeep Badge of Honor certified trails at the park. After our first trip there, we enticed one of our also full-time RVer friends to swing in this direction so we could go back for some joint fun.
SMORR had just opened the first weekend we were there and they were ramping up for the summer season. They have some great supporting infrastructure including an on-site cafe, high-pressure air-up station, a campground, and also cabins for those without RVs. There is also a large picnic shelter for groups, in fact, they were completely booked out for the Easter weekend for an event.
We did stay overnight one night at the campground and were surprised by how quiet it was there even when completely full of groups there to play together. Don’t plan to sleep in though because as soon as quiet hours are over it gets noisy fast! You can start out the day with breakfast at the cafe that is onsite. The overall trails and park is laid out well that no trail is really in itself that long and there are varying degrees of difficulty and options for all skills and capabilities. The park is over 900 acres in total, but still small enough that you can be back to the cafe for a lunch in just a few minutes.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Dogwood Canyon-Nature Park was recommended by family and every tourism brochure will feature it. We just drove by because of timing and it was getting late in the day. There are costs to doing everything and we wanted to make sure we could appreciate the costs involved. So this remains on our map for next time.
You know you are starting to get back to the upper midwest when you encounter Pizza Ranch! There are a couple in the area.
We noticed there are numerous restaurants that are recommended that are inside of pay areas. You have to pay to get into a resort and then you can go to the restaurant. There were some areas where you had to pay just to drive in. If this is something you are not happy with, then you should double-check the access costs for restaurants inside of complexes like golf courses, vacation resorts, etc.
There were a couple of places we won’t negatively comment on here, but they were some of our worst experiences at a restaurant. Branson is clearly still hurting from the pandemic for staffing and for even the tourists to bring their money back in the doors.
The Keeter Center
The Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks was one of our splurges and it was well worth it. Known for their Sunday brunch we were not disappointed. Students at the college are required to work on campus in some capacity to offset the cost of their tuition. There is also a hospitality academic program at the college that runs this lodging and dining operation. Reservations are required and it took some repeat trying to catch one via their website. We had even made the decision to come back a day early from SMORR because of that fact, we were happy we had done so.
Indian Clay Oven
Doordash and other delivery services are in the area, we learned about the Indian Clay Oven by having delivery and were so impressed we decided to drive down to the strip twice to eat at the restaurant in person. This family-run business is just hiding in a strip mall on the west end of the tourist main drag. It would be really easy to just drive by this without a second thought.
Farm House Restaurant
We include this not because we had the most amazing breakfast here but for the potential that we could in the future. Everything pointed to this as “thee” place for breakfast, but on the day we were there, it wasn’t that overly special. They have a small gift shop and there were long lines waiting for tables later. Fortunately, we had gotten there earlier and did not wait for a table or we would have probably had a pretty negative experience. We look forward to a future try and having our epicurean socks knocked off!