Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.
Branson, Missouri, has been a family vacation destination for decades. This small mountain town, just a few miles north of the Arkansas border, has embraced its role as a tourist magnet, with attractions including Old West theme park Silver Dollar City, campgrounds and resorts lining the edges of man-made Table Rock Lake, and a Vegas-like strip along Highway 76 of live performance venues that once hosted mostly country acts but has diversified in recent years. But it’s worth your time to venture beyond Branson’s borders—from world-class art museums to top-flight float trips, there’s much more to see within a two-hour drive.
Missouri’s third-largest city, less than an hour north of Branson, offers plenty for science-minded kids and parents. The Wonders of Wildlife museum and aquarium, a pet project of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, is home to more than 35,000 live animals and billed as the largest facility of its kind. At the Discovery Center of Springfield, kids can engage with interactive exhibits about science, technology, and the human body. And just outside the city, Fantastic Caverns offers unique ride-through tram tours of stunning underground landscapes. Find your Springfield hotel right here.
Distance from Branson: 44 miles
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This Victorian-era resort town in northwest Arkansas has been called “America’s Little Switzerland” for the way the city built itself into its craggy landscape; streets wind along snakelike mountain curves with pedestrian stairways connecting the varying elevations. Eureka’s shops, restaurants, and art galleries tend to be run by kooky ex-hippie types, but just outside the city, the Great Passion Play reenacts the last days of Jesus Christ in an outdoor amphitheater that seats 4,000 viewers a night. Kids will love Beaver Lake, Onyx Cave Park and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Find your Eureka Springs hotel right here.
Distance from Branson: 52 miles
Buffalo National River
The country’s first waterway to be given the designation of National River back in 1972, the Buffalo cuts through the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. The river offers stunning visuals for float trippers, framed by towering bluffs, and plenty of wildlife sightings. Concessioners sanctioned by the National Parks Service offer canoes and kayaks for rent, and provide shuttle service; depending on river conditions and your choice of launch point, day trips out on the water can last from one to eight hours. Find your hotel near Buffalo National River here.
Distance from Branson: 50–70 miles
The birthplace of the Walmart chain of retail superstores, this Northwest Arkansas city became a mecca for art lovers with the opening of corporate heiress Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011, and featuring a permanent collection of paintings and sculptures spanning the colonial era to modern day. A satellite space dubbed the Momentary opened in early 2020, with a focus on contemporary visual and performing arts; both museums offer free admission. Kids with more energy to burn will love the nearby Amazeum, chock full of hands-on science and tech experiences. Find your Bentonville hotel right here.
Distance from Branson: 85 miles
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
Two hours north of Branson, the Lake of the Ozarks offers miles and miles of shoreline. Lounge or swim at the park’s two public beaches, or get out on the water with kayaks, paddle boats, pontoon boats and motorboats available to rent. Other nearby attractions include splashy water parks replete with slides and wave pools, or you can get out of the sun by taking a guided underground tour of the majestic Ozark Caverns, where the temperature is a steady 56 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. Find your hotel near Lake of the Ozarks right here.
Distance from Branson: 125 miles
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.