Introduction Entertaining with a capital “E.” That's Branson, which started out small as a vacation destination roughly half a century ago. Beginning with a couple of caves, some local fishing spots and a little show put on for tourists by the four musical Mabe brothers, Branson has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon while embodying—to a rather remarkable degree—the essence of small-town America. One key difference: This small town is packed to the gills with fun things to see and do.
flickr/Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau
Branson is best known for its live performances, with more than 100 different shows in venues ranging from intimate theaters to a grand 4,000-seat palace. But if you spend all your time indoors you'll be missing out on the delightful natural setting that makes the Tri-Lakes area so appealing. The blue lakes and green hills of Ozarks country are an open invitation to take a walk along a grassy riverbank, hike a dogwood-lined trail, nose a boat through a secluded inlet or cast a line for trout in a cool, rushing stream.
flickr/Missouri Division of Tourism
You'll have no trouble filling up a day: In addition to loads of shows and all kinds of fun things to do outdoors, Branson has theme parks, craft villages, all-you-can-eat buffets and special events galore. You can watch woodcarvers, basket weavers and folk artists at work. You can shop at factory outlets or country stores. You can ride a sightseeing train. But what keeps lots of people coming back is the genuine hospitality, which shines through in every warm welcome. All those smiles are reason enough to visit, don't you think?
By CarBranson receives an estimated 8 million visitors annually, and more than 90 percent of them drive. This can present a challenge to the existing road network, which was never meant to accommodate the number of vehicles that arrive throughout the year. However, more than $200 million spent on new highway construction has helped lessen the bottleneck conditions that can occur in summer, the busiest season.
I-44 funnels traffic to Springfield from St. Louis and points east, and from Tulsa, Oklahoma City and points west. South from Springfield or north from Little Rock and Harrison, Ark., the main approach is via US 65, which is four lanes from Springfield south to Branson, facilitating access into town. US 65 has been widened to four lanes from Hollister, just across Lake Taneycomo from Branson, south to the Arkansas border.
More locally, the Ozark Mountain Highroad (SR 465) runs east-west for 8 miles between US 65 and SR 76 just west of the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, offering a relaxed and less-traveled route to Table Rock Lake, the Silver Dollar City theme park and other attractions on the west side of town. North-south SR 13, which branches off SR 76, and east-west SR 86, which branches off US 65 south of Hollister, are other easy ways to get to Table Rock Lake. For a delightfully scenic day trip from Branson to popular Eureka Springs, Ark., take US 65 south to US 62, then US 62 west.
Street SystemHistoric downtown Branson, just east of US 65 via US 65 Business Route/Veterans Boulevard, forms a small, compact grid of streets running about six blocks north-south and east-west. East-west Main Street, the eastward extension of SR 76, and north-south Commercial Street are the main thoroughfares. Main Street runs into Branson Landing Boulevard, which fronts Branson Landing and beyond, Lake Taneycomo.
Branson's main drag is, of course, SR 76W, sometimes known as Country Music Boulevard and widely named simply “the Strip.” The 5-mile stretch within the city limits, a two-lane highway with a center turning lane, is the heart of many Branson activities, winding past a seemingly endless procession of music theaters, attractions, shopping centers, hotels, motels and restaurants.
The other major roads are SR 248/Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, Gretna Road and Green Mountain Drive. SR 248 branches west off US 65, providing a northerly route that eventually intersects with SR 265 west of SR 76 via Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Several popular theaters and attractions are along this stretch. Gretna Road, between SR 248 and SR 76, is lined with shopping complexes. Green Mountain Drive runs south of and parallel to SR 76.
Traffic is frequently congested along much of SR 76, particularly so before and after evening performances at the theaters, and major intersections—for example, SR 76 and Gretna Road—can become gridlocked at times. But fortunately, driving the Strip is a choice and not a necessity, thanks to three east-west color-coded “relief routes” that can be time-saving options.
Two routes are north of SR 76, and one is south. The Red Route is SR 248 from US 65 west to Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and Shepherd of the Hills Expressway west to SR 265. The Blue Route is Roark Valley Road from SR 76 to Gretna Road and Gretna Road back to SR 76. The Yellow Route is Fall Creek Road to Wildwood Drive, Wildwood Drive to Green Mountain Drive and Green Mountain Drive to SR 76.
Red, blue and yellow route signs are posted regularly along the respective roads. The Yellow Route is the most crowded of the three, so consider using the Blue or Red routes instead. Once you become familiar with these routes, however, getting around Branson is pretty much a snap. You can pick up a Time-Saver road map (created by the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) showing these routes as well as the location of many theaters and attractions from just about any local hotel or restaurant.
ParkingFinding a place to park in Branson is rarely a problem. Almost all of the theaters have their own large lots, and parking for most shopping centers and restaurants is plentiful. Although you may have to hunt for a space downtown on weekends, there are two parking garages and four lots serving the historic downtown and Branson Landing areas.
In-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. All hotels must meet the same basic requirements for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality to be AAA Approved. A rating of one to five AAA Diamonds tells members what type of experience to expect, from no-frills to highly personalized.
The Branson/Lakes area levies general retail sales, tourism sales and food and beverage sales taxes based on three different jurisdictions: Branson Landing/downtown, citywide and Branson Hills. General retail sales taxes range from 8.6 to 9.6 percent; sales that include a tourism sales tax range from 11.6 to 12.6 percent; food and beverage sales taxes range from 8.975 to 9.975 percent.
Time and Temperature
Skaggs Regional Medical Center, (417) 335-7000; CoxHealth Cox North (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-3000; CoxHealth Cox South (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-6000; Mercy Hospital (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 820-2000.
269 SR 248 Branson, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661
(BKG), 1 mile south of the Hollister exit off US 65, east on Branson Creek Boulevard, then following signs to 4000 Branson Airport Blvd., is served by Buzz Airways and Frontier and handles commercial and general aviation; phone (417) 334-7813.
Hertz, which only operates out of Springfield-Branson National Airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (417) 597-5313, (800) 654-3131 or (800) 654-3080. Rental cars are available at Branson Airport.
Gray Line Branson
Cab companies include Jerry’s Shuttle, (417) 348-1419; and Checker Cab, City Cabs and Yellow Cab, all of which can be reached at (417) 332-2227 (Branson Cab Service).
Unless you're part of a motor coach tour, getting around Branson is much easier if you have your own vehicle. One convenient alternative to driving is a free ride aboard the Downtown Trolley. The red-and-gold, hop-on and hop-off trolley makes 12 stops in the historic downtown area, including two stops at Branson Landing. It operates daily 9-6, Mar.-Dec.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trolley maps are available at downtown retail locations and at the Downtown Branson Betterment Association, 112 W. College St.; phone (417) 334-1548 or (866) 523-1190.