It turns out that Branson, a popular entertainment mecca for families and retired folks, is chock-full of outdoor free adventures that are dog-friendly, some right in town. And if you want to take a little drive, Table Rock State Park is only 9 miles away.
First of all, if you’re staying in Branson for any length of time and you have dogs your choices are:
- Leave them at boarding at home before you go on vacation
- Take them with you and find a dog-friendly AirBnB or vacation rental
- Stay at an RV park and leave them in the motorhome or travel trailer when they can’t be with you
I travel with my dogs in my motorhome so I usually try to find a nice quiet RV Park that has lots of trees and preferably, a small off-leash dog park too. I found that with Escapees Turkey Creek RV Village (click on link for my review) which is by the water, under the trees, small and quiet, has a dog park, and is $400 a month. You can’t beat that. I have gone to some shows and museums without the dogs and the longest I’ve left them is three hours alone. Any longer than that and I start to worry about potential destruction inside my very small motorhome. So far, so good.
When I started to get bored with the shopping and sightseeing and was a little worried about the dogs being cooped up, I started exploring natural areas where I could take them. Much to my surprise, there are many free nature sights in this area and the more I explored, the more I realized that Branson and Taney County have made a concerted effort to retain the Ozark Mountains feel in and around this little town. From the Branson Parks & Recreation Department comes this quote:
“We also provide oversight of 16 city parks totaling more than 300 acres, ranging
from small neighborhood parks to large wilderness areas with hiking trails.”
Here is my take on some of the places we’ve visited (in order of when we were there):
(1) STOCKSTILL PARK, 625 Stockstill Ln, Branson, MO 65616
This is one of a number of city parks in Branson and is a large recreation area on the Northwest side of town. It includes several ball fields, picnic areas, a children’s playground, walking trails, and a members only dog park. But there is plenty to do with your pups without going in the dog park.
There are several paths that lead down to the creek and it sure is nice to wet the paws on a hot day.
(2) TABLE ROCK STATE PARK, 5272 MO-165, Branson, MO 65616 and
Table Rock State Park actually has a number of places you can pull off the highway and visit (all left hand turns when heading north on 265), including the Table Rock State marina, the showboat Branson Belle, the campground, and the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center. I am not positive if you can reach each place just by turning in to the state park entrance but I suspect you have to drive back out to the main highway unless you are hiking the lakeshore trail. When parking at the visitor’s center, keep in mind that the hiking trails start past the administrative offices, which are on the opposite side of the parking lot from the visitor’s center. If you want to do both, you might park in the middle unless you are up to a walk.
Dogs are not allowed in the visitor’s center so I tied them up outside and just peeked in for a few minutes. There is a small exhibit of local interest, a few items for sale, and an observation deck upstairs. They also advertised ranger talks on the hour. Just outside the visitor’s center is the dam.
There is a restroom at the lakeshore trail trailhead and we did find one trash can and bench about halfway down the trail on the way to the Branson Belle, which was convenient because I was carrying two full doggie bags. It’s an easy paved trail suitable for walkers, runners, or bicycles. There are little signposts along the way identifying some of the native trees.
The lakeshore trail is a .6 mile trail to the showboat area where we rested a while and visited with one of the park employees, then walked back. Dogs are not allowed through the grounds where the showboat is and you can’t see the boat from the parking lot. We walked down a gravel trail just before rounding the corner to the showboat parking lot and were able to get some pictures of the boat from the beach.
This is a very large state park with many opportunities available for just about anyone, from sightseeing to hiking to fishing to water sports to camping. And from the internet, a blurb on Missouri state parks —
Missouri’s state parks are free to attend; there is no entrance fee, making Missouri one of eight states in the country to provide that park service for free.
On the way to Table Rock Lake or on the way back, be sure to stop at the BRANSON SCENIC OVERLOOK, state route MO-165 N
This scenic overlook is 6.3 miles from Branson Landing on the way to Table Rock State Park. There is plenty of parking when you pull over on either side of the highway.
(3) HULLAND PARK, Hulland Park Drive off Railroad Ave, Hollister, MO
This little city park is walking distance from Escapee’s Turkey Creek RV Village if your dogs are energetic. Mine are getting older and the bigger one has back issues so we drive on over but when we get there, they have fun walking around the park. This park is on a peninsula with views of Branson Landing across the way. It has picnic benches and park benches but appears to be mostly used by people fishing. I didn’t see any restroom facilities while there.
(4) BRANSON LANDING, with dogs
On Tuesday afternoon, after picking up my poodle mix from the groomer, I took the dogs to Branson Landing for a walk and treats. We parked in the large parking lot south of Bass Pro Shops and walked up to Don’t 4 Get About Me first. This is a pet store that is pet-friendly and we met several other dogs while visiting. They have bins of homemade style treats in various healthy flavors like kelp and duck or chicken and blueberry. You can purchase a quart canning jar and mix and match flavors while you fill it up for $13.95. Then bring the empty jar back and you can fill it again for $10.00. There were 6 flavors available and I mixed 4 of them. My dogs don’t like peanut butter and can’t have cheese but the other four flavors were a big hit.
We then walked up to the fountain area where we took a fun walk out on the water. There is plenty of room to walk your dogs at Branson Landing without impeding on shoppers and there are several restaurants with patio seating so you can stay and enjoy your shopping experience with you pets.
(5) SCENIC DRIVE and ROCKAWAY BEACH, Hwys 76 east and 160 south
On Sunday, we took a 27 mile scenic drive and saw some very interesting places. I felt like I was seeing the real Ozarks and it was just what I’d envisoned. We left the Branson Petco and took Highway 65 north to 176 east for 16 miles to Rockaway Beach. Some of the areas around here could have been prototypes for the Netflix TV Show, Ozark. Although there were a number of little motels and restaurants that were now out of business and standing empty, the actual town itself seems to be doing ok. There’s a little marina you can park at and walk around at Bull Shoals Lake and tourists and fishermen seemed to be a big business there.
Continuing along Highway 176, there is a scenic overlook 3.4 miles down the road at 14562 US-160, Forsyth, MO 65653. This is a right hand stop if you are going south. We stopped for photos before continuing on.
We had planned to stop at Shadow Rock Park, 6.5 miles from Rockaway Beach, but when we got there, it appeared to be under water. We continued on, made a wrong exit at the nearby roundabout and went about 5 miles the wrong way. Got turned around and continued on to the town of Forsyth.
(6) CHAD A. FUQUA MEMORIAL PARK AND HANCOCK FALLS, 312 Esplanade Drive, Hollister, MO 65672
This is just a little city park .7 miles from Turkey Creek RV Village. It features a small stage area for local plays and a very short paved walking path that leads to the falls not far at all from the parking lot. There are picnic tables interspersed throughout and a port-a-potty next to the city hall. The falls were only trickling when we were there in August but the dogs enjoyed the walk through the trees.
(7) LAKESIDE FOREST WILDERNESS, 412 Owen Ln, Branson, MO 65616
We’ve visited this walking area twice already. This is a 140 acre forested area right in the heart of Branson. There are about 5 miles of hiking trails. My dogs and I were there on two different Sunday mornings but the parking lot wasn’t crowded and we only passed two other groups on the trails both times. Even though the trail we took was a short one, it was a very humid morning and we had to stop twice for water. Pack your own water with you as there are no water fountains on the trails.
The first time, we took the blue trail to the stone steps but discovered after we reached the old homestead that you could take the yellow path, which is much wider and more level and end up at the same place. The old homestead has several buildings still standing and a picnic area. This is also where the 315 stone steps down to the lake begin but dogs are not allowed on the stone steps. Also be aware that the stone steps trail may not be suitable for people who have health or weight issues. If you are adventurous, there are several trails that are more strenuous than the yellow trail.
The yellow trail leads to the green trail, which is a short walk past the stone wall that was built by the original owner. This is not a strenuous walk and we found it quite interesting.
(8) RUTH AND PAUL HENNING CONSERVATION AREA, Branson, MO 65616
This 1500 plus acre nature area doesn’t seem to have an address but the website describes it as “in the White River Hills of western Taney County on the west side of Branson.” It is 6.4 miles from Escapees Turkey Creek RV Village. An interesting fact about this conservation area is that it was donated to the city by Paul Henning, creator of Petticoat Junction, the Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres.
Off of Highway 76, not far from Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, is one long one-way parking strip with several lookouts and conservation information posted along the rock retaining wall. There is no visitor center and just one pit toilet. I was disappointed that there were no trash cans anywhere, not even in the toilet building and found myself carrying two full bags of dog poo with nowhere to dispose of them.
There are several hiking trails, one of which is paved. It was a day of heat warnings so we didn’t stay too long. In addition to the hiking trails, this nature area boasts a lookout tower that can be reached from the Dewey Bald Trail (to the right of the parking lot as you are facing the valley). There are parking lots on opposite sides of the conservation area boundaries and we parked at the one off of Highway 76. The other parking lot is by Roark Creek.
(9) SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS FISH HATCHERY, 483 Hatchery Rd, Branson, MO 65616
We went to the fish hatchery, six miles from Branson, on a drizzly day after it had rained all night but the trails were still quite passable. There are two parking lots, one closer to the visitor center and one closer to the hiking trails but it’s a short walk regardless of which one you park at. We weren’t sure where the trails were but found the sign after passing through the covered picnic area and past the bathroom building.
The trail we took is a nice dirt and gravel trail with occasional wooden bridges and stairs as necessary and it follows Lake Taneycomo where you can find early morning fly fishermen wading through looking for their trout.
The visitor’s center has exhibits, a large aquarium with nice sized trout and native Ozark fish, and ranger talks and tours several times a day. I was not able to bring the dogs into the building but they were happy to wait outside tied to a picnic bench while I took a quick look around. Outside the building, you will find the fish tanks and there is an opportunity to purchase food to feed them. There are no signs about dogs here so I took mine with me and they were quiet and well-behaved as we walked around. I can imagine if you had disruptive dogs, it wouldn’t be appreciated while the rangers are giving their tours and talks.
There is an abundance of wildlife in this area and, in addition to people coming here to fly fish, I’m sure it’s frequented by many hikers, birders, and wildlife photographers.