Who knew? This small town which triples in size with tourists and is known for it’s shows and Las Vegas style attractions actually has quite a bit of nature going for it. And the city and county work hard to preserve that nature. From the parks & recs department website 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.”
Lakeside Forest Wilderness Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area Table Rock Lake State Park
This would definitely be ranked No. 1 on nature areas in the area for me. My dogs and I enjoyed this urban wilderness a number of times while parked in nearby Hollister. This is a 140 acre forested area right in the heart of Branson. There are about 5 miles of hiking trails. We were there on the weekend but the parking lot wasn’t crowded. Pack your own water with you as there are no water fountains on the trails.
Probably the most popular for visitors and walkers/hikers is the 315 stone steps that lead down to the lakefront. However, dogs are not allowed on this part of the trails. Also be aware that the stone steps trail may not be suitable for people who have health or weight issues. The first time, we took the blue trail to the top of the stone steps but discovered after we reached the old homestead that you could take the yellow trail, 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. 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.
This 1500+ 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).
Table Rock Lake State Park is only 10 miles from Branson and entrance, hiking, and the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center are free. 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. When parking at the visitor’s center, keep in mind that the hiking trail starts 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 didn’t spend much time but did see exhibits 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. 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 trail from the visitor’s center to the Branson Belle is .6 miles each way. You can also park at either the marina or the picnic/camping area and hike the same trail the other direction. I actually did both with my dogs on two different days. Dogs aren’t allowed on the grounds of the Branson Belle but if you are without dogs, you can sightsee there as well.