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Branson, Missouri is the corniest town I’ve ever been too. The town exists for the novel. Main attractions include: an indoor stampede at the Dixie Stampede show, a titanic museum that looks like the titanic and overly large ordinary objects including: planes, a chicken bigger than its barn and nutcrackers.

The average backpacker or jetsetter probably never thinks to step foot in Branson. The town’s main draw is family-friendlyness and down-home charm. But even if you don’t fall into that category, the shear novelty the town exudes makes Branson worth a visit.

The Park

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Silver Dollar City is a theme park stuck in the 1880’s. Everything, from the food to the rides, is made to look like it came from a different era. You should go to the park even if you don’t like roller coasters. The bulk of the shops sell things made as they were in the 1800’s. You can eat fresh hand-pulled saltwater taffy; watch molten glass take shape as vases, plates and figurines; see wood be cut, whittled and polished into walking sticks and utensils; and witness a potter form clay by hand.

The park food is surprisingly good. Make sure to try succotash– a hearty mix of corn, beans, lentils, potatoes and a protein fried in woks as big as a coffee table. The beef jerky stand is always a good stop. You can choose from classic flavors or something a little more exotic like ostrich, alligator and buffalo.

If you’re seeking some thrills, the roller coasters won’t let you down. Make sure to ride the wild fire for some beautiful views of the surrounding hills. Walk through Grandpa’s Mansion, if you want to feel turned around. It’s a small funhouse with all sorts of oddities including a basement so slanted it’s difficult to walk.

The saloon show strikes the perfect balance between rough and tumble and yet still appropriate for kids and the cave tour inspires awe. Marvel cave was the original attraction in Branson. The entrance and first room is huge– several air balloons were floated in the cave once as a stunt. After making it down 600 stairs, tour groups traverse a set of chambers, all with different names and stories. For a few seconds, you will experience darkness thicker than you have ever seen when the tour guide shuts off the lights.

The constant banjo music will get tiring, but Silver Dollar City will delight if you embrace it’s quirky and kitsch theme.

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Nature

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Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Branson is stunning in the fall. The area is a hotspot for campers and there are plenty of hiking trails and look-out points. The height of fall colors is usually in mid-October. The the area doesn’t get a lot of snowfall, so winter can be drab. However, small bed and breakfasts hidden in the hills offer breathtaking views of the valleys and lakes, any time of year.

Ecotourism hasn’t hit Branson yet but there are plenty of parks and conservation areas to explore. Fishing is good all year round on Table Rock Lake and It’s a great place to boat during the summer with the added bonus of being less crowded than Lake of the Ozarks.

The Main Drag

The downtown portion of Branson is a nightmare to drive through. It’s almost impossible to get around Branson without a car, but the area with attractions and shows is small, which creates some of the worst congestion I have ever seen. The geography complicates things further. Everything is on a steep hill and at an odd angle, limiting visibility and forcing roads to take long routes and switchbacks. Luckily, there’s a lot to look at.

It’s as though every attraction tried to be bigger and weird than the last. Big bright signs advertising weird attractions line the roads. Skip the shows, most of them are hokey and expensive, and go instead for a museum. As befitting the rest of Branson, these museums are not full of the finer arts. Instead, you’ll find yourself amazed and horrified in the Ripley’s Believe or Not museum and ogling the rebuilt titanic rooms in the titanic museum.

One weekend is probably enough to satisfy your need for the novel, but this cheesy town will be waiting for the next time you need a fix of kitsch.

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