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In addition to touring Talking Rocks Cavern, visitors can enjoy gemstone mining or sluicing, Speleo Boxes, nature trails and family games.

Featured Article

Our Branson Missouri Summer Vacay

Silver Dollar City, Caves, Lakefront Beaches, and So Much More!

This summer, my sister Lori and niece, City Lifestyle columnist/photographer Lindsey Davies, considered several ideas for our summer vacation. One of our key considerations was finding a place not too far away by car that would also hopefully be both entertaining and educational for Lindsey's 6-year-old son, Liam. We also planned on bringing Lori and Lindsey's aging fur babies with us.

Eventually, we decided against Corpus Christi, Texas, or Colorado (at least for this year) and turned our sights on Branson, Missouri, a favorite vacation destination of my family many years back.

Our first step was to plan our route and book pet-friendly hotels. La Quinta By Wyndam allows pets for a small fee, and as a bonus offers free breakfast, so we booked our first night at the La Quinta in Joplin, Missouri, and the rest of the nights at the sister hotel in Branson. After leaving Joplin, we made a quick stop in Springfield to visit the giant Big Bass Shops there, which (happily) allows dogs.

We visited Silver Dollar City (, a popular 1880s theme park, on a Wednesday. If you have a choice, I recommend visiting between Monday and Thursday, as weekends get extremely busy, with long lines for all the attractions. (No pets allowed; we left ours at the hotel.)

Liam rode only one ride, Lucky's Dizzy Dogs, in the kiddie area (called Fireman's Landing), but there are several available for more adventurous children. Liam loved the FireHouse Play Place, a two-story interactive training course is a bucketful of fun for new recruits, filled with foam balls, hoses and cannons for mock firefighting practice.

I wanted to ride the Fire in the Hole roller coaster, billed as "the world's most historic indoor roller coaster," which will be retired at the end of the 2023 season, but didn't get the chance. Likewise, I'd hoped to visit Marvel Cave, around which the theme park was originally built, but we decided the hourlong, 300-foot descent was a bit too strenuous for the 6-year-old at this stage. 

Liam also greatly enjoyed the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train ride, in which "train robbers" briefly interrupt the ride in a humorous (to a kid, anyway) stick-up attempt. We rode on it twice.

A swinging bridge; Grandfather's Mansion, featuring mystifying rooms with slanting floors, mirrored walls and dizzying effects; and a glassblowing demonstration nicely rounded out our visit, which we actually enjoyed in two separate visits. Park guests are allowed to come and go as they wish during the day they visit; just remember to hold onto your tickets!

Summer hours for the theme park (and water park) end Aug. 27. Visit their website for special fall hours.

Branson's offerings have grown so much since my last visit! It would take much more than a week to sample on the shows and attractions you'll find there, most if not all of them family-friendly.

We bought tickets to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk (, which were pretty pricey at over $200 for four tickets, but they turned out to be a bargain, as your purchase also allows you access (within the next two days) to the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Castle of Chaos, Hanna's Maze of Mirrors and Shoot for the Stars Mini-Golf. We visited them all, some twice!

We also visited Talking Rocks Caverns (, which is smaller than Marvel Cave but quite beautiful. We only made it through part of the tour before Liam decided it was all a bit too much, but I'm glad we got to see as much as we did. Definitely worth your time!

Our last full day in Branson, we visited nearby Table Rock Lake ( for an afternoon of swimming. Table Rock came in at the top spot in's listing of the 14 Best Lakes in the U.S. in 2023.

I'd definitely recommend Branson for a family-friendly vacation, pets or no. We plan a return visit when Liam is old enough to enjoy more of the rides.

  • Lori Hanna in foreground and Liam Davies in far background walk through the Waters Tunnel at the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson. (Photo by Lindsey Davies)
  • Exterior of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk (Photo by Lindsey Davies)
  • All aboard the Fire in the Hole Rollercoaster at Silver Dollar City, retiring at the end of this season (Photo supplied)
  • Silver Dollar City offers demonstrations of various crafts. Here, a glassblower and his helpers create a snowman. (Photo by Lindsey Davies)
  • Liam Davies enjoys a walk across the swinging bridge at Silver Dollar City. (Photo by Lindsey Davies)
  • This roadside "village" in Branson includes a coffee and pastry shop (among others) and an outdoor area to enjoy your dessert and coffee or play lawn games.
  • The FireHouse Play Place is a two-story interactive traing course that's a bucketful of fun for new recruits. (Photo by Lindsey Davies)
  • In addition to touring Talking Rocks Cavern, visitors can enjoy gemstone mining or sluicing, Speleo Boxes, nature trails and family games.
  • Branson's Castle of Chaos and Hannah's Maze of Mirrors
  • My favorite display at the Hollywood Wax Museum (Photo by Jerri Culpepper)