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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Road trip: Why you should take a weekend to explore Branson, Missouri

Jason Spencer
Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau
Historic Branson

Less than a four-hour drive from Kansas City, Branson has a surprising amount to offer for a day trip — including a Dolly Parton-themed dinner show, a recreation of the Titanic and beautiful nature parks.

This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

If you're vaccinated and ready to hit the road for a summer adventure, Kansas City is a great place to kick off your summer road trip. First, we explored the landscapes and folk art of central Kansas. Now, we're heading south to Branson, Missouri.

Less than a four-hour drive from Kansas City, Branson is one of the world’s most polarizing tourist destinations. But people who poke fun at Branson are missing out. There’s a compelling — dare we even say “cool” — side to Branson.

With the onset of summer and the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, now is an ideal time to explore this city in the Ozarks.

We Will Always Love You

Wade Payne | Invision | AP

Dolly Parton may be the most beloved person in America. The iconic country legend and national treasure helped fund the successful Moderna vaccine for COVID-19. She’s also the subject of a bestselling book by the Kansas author Sarah Smarsh.

Fans can pay homage to the benevolent star by visiting her outpost in Branson: Dolly Parton's Stampede, an immersive dinner show. The fast-moving revue of music, daredevil horse riding and racing pigs compensates for the absence of the establishment’s namesake.

The Great Outdoors

Dogwood Canyon | Instagram
Dogwood Canyon near Branson, Missouri.

Anyone enchanted by the vistas on the Netflix thriller "Ozark" will relish the corresponding landscape surrounding Branson.

The miles of trails at Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area are just steps away from the action on Branson’s strip. The Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area is a few minutes from the heart of Branson. Visitors can ignore the glitz of Branson entirely by immersing themselves in rafting, fishing and camping. Plenty of outfitters are available to assist and supply novices and old hands.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Parkis ideally suited to greenhorns merely hoping to sample outdoor diversions. Guides are for hire at the “outdoor playground” to offer assistance with activities including horseback riding and trout fishing.

Stay Cool

Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Even skeptics have to admit Branson has some pretty notable landmarks. Billed as “the world’s largest museum attraction,” Titanic Branson is an imposing reconstruction of the ill-fated ship. It houses hundreds of original artifacts reclaimed from the wreckage.

Animal lovers with no interest in rods and reels may enjoy the kid-friendly Branson Aquarium or learn how trout are raised at the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery.

While Branson's theaters typically cater to retirees who prefer milder sounds, amid the cover bands and floor shows can be found lively concerts by genuine country and pop stars. Country artists Chris Young and Trace Adkins, and Nelly, the rap artist and hitmaker behind jams like "Hot in Herre," are among the acts slated to perform at the nearby Black Oak Amphitheater in the coming months.

Embrace The Moment

Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Of course, giving in to Branson’s particular, cheesy charm — and its delightful main drag — is also an option.

There's good reason why tourist attractions like the wax museum, comedianYakov Smirnoff, taffy, go-karts and miniature golf are time-honored.

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KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee blogs about Kansas City's jazz scene at plasticsax.com.
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