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10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, MO

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, MO

Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk

 

It’s pretty hard to miss the giant octopus in Branson, MO. This shimmering silver sculpture overlooking the 76 Strip marks the entrance to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, one of Branson’s newest and most enchanting attractions.

 

Image courtesy of Aquarium at the Boardwalk

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk to facilitate my posts, but no payment was received and all opinions are my own.

 

The Aquarium at the Boardwalk opened in late 2020 and invites visitors to explore underwater wonders with more than 10,000 creatures from over 260 different species showcased in over 400,000 gallons of water.

While it’s easy to simply stroll through the exhibits wonderstruck by the fascinating fish that surround you, I wanted to put together a list of fun facts for people like me who delight in the details. The aquarium’s director of husbandry was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge with me and answer a few million of my endless questions to help me create this post filled with fishy facts to keep in mind while visiting the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson for an even more memorable experience.

 

octopus number graphic  Keep an eye out for octopuses! 

It’s not every day you see a 34-ton octopus. (Actually, if you *do* see one every day, I have questions.) The massive steel sculpture that decorates the aquarium entrance certainly sets the mood for the wonders inside. This 55-foot tall structure was created by the art studio Demiurge in Colorado and transported to Branson in pieces on a fleet of 27 flatbed trucks, which stretched the length of three football fields. (Am I the only one who thinks football would be more interesting with a giant octopus on the field?) After arriving in Missouri, the sculpture took six weeks to assemble. It instantly became a Branson icon and a popular spot for photos.

 

Octopus sculpture at aquarium in branson mo

 

The giant octopus sculpture outside is just the beginning! Inside the aquarium, you’ll encounter Aquarius the Giant Pacific Octopus at the souvenir photo spot and in the 5-D movie, as well as meeting the real deal in one of the first exhibits you come to. I’m a huge octopus fan, so I can’t think of a better way to begin your journey through the Aquarium at the Boardwalk!

Branson octopus going through tube in aquarium

Wondering about that tube that connects the two tanks? An octopus can fit through pretty much any hole that’s larger than their beak, which is the only non-squishy part of their body. This makes them experts at escape, since they can slip through any tiny opening in their habitat. Above, you can see Aquarius stretching an arm through the tube to decide if the seagrass is greener on the other side!

The octopus is a master of camouflage, though, so be sure to keep an eye out for Aquarius as you travel through the aquarium! There are nine hidden octopus sculptures to find as you explore, and spotting them is both surprisingly challenging and a lot of fun!

Aquarium in Branson Octopus Sculpture

If you read my other post about the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, you’ll have a good idea of where this one might be hiding!

 

 

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A post shared by Crystal Ward (@andblueskyblog)

 

   The custom-made music sets the mood.

The first time I visited Branson’s Aquarium at the Boardwalk, I actually didn’t even notice the spellbinding soundtrack until I got home and looked at the videos I’d taken. It enhances the experience without being intrusive, which isn’t surprising since it was created by Jay Flood, an award-winning composer who has worked on movie and video game soundtracks. When you first enter the building, you’ll hear current pop music that amps you up and fits the boardwalk theme, but once you reach the Grand Aquarium, you’re immersed in an original score that makes the beautiful visuals feel even more cinematic.

 

 

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The perfect soundtrack for a sharky shipwreck!

 

cownose ray branson boardwalk aquarium

 

Branson MO Aquarium Mealtimes are carefully measured… and kind of mouthwatering?

If fresh seafood gets you excited, you might be a little jealous of what the fish here get to eat every day. Restaurant-quality ingredients ranging from tiny brine shrimp to fresh leafy greens make up the menus, which are designed to mimic what each species would eat in the wild as closely as possible. As you can imagine, that can be a bit of a challenge when you live in a landlocked state!

Many of the aquarium residents, like the sharks and stingrays, are carefully observed by one team member as another feeds them so that detailed records can be kept about exactly what and how much each individual animal eats. These records make it easy to spot changes in appetite and watch for food preferences. Want to know what this particular cownose ray ate for breakfast a year ago? That info is filed away somewhere!

 

Coral Reef Aquarium Branson Missouri

 Octopus aquarium Branson The systems that keep the water clean and the fish happy are mind-blowingly complex.

I had the opportunity to peek into a few different “backstage” rooms where the water is transformed from ordinary tap water to fish-friendly saltwater with the perfect temperature, PH levels, and salinity to keep the aquarium residents happy and healthy. If you’ve ever had an aquarium at home, you have an idea of just how tricky keeping everything balanced can be, but imagine having to fine-tune water conditions for hundreds of different species! There are more than two miles of pipes beneath the building, ultraviolet sterilization, a whole separate system for the touch tanks to handle water that hundreds of human hands go into each day, an entire life support team in charge of water quality, and even smart technology that can send an alert to staff members if something goes wrong in the middle of the night.

 

School of Fish Branson Boardwalk Aquarium

Octopus Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk  Social Life in the Sea Is Complex

Complex social lives aren’t just for reality TV and vague social media posts. While many people think of fish as very simple creatures just swimming through life, their social lives are often more intricate than you might imagine!

coral reef aquarium in branson moCoexisting in the Coral Reef

When designing the Grand Aquarium, which is home to more than 100 species and over 2,000 total fish, the aquarium team had to choose fish that could live together in harmony for their entire lives, which meant picking species that wouldn’t eat each other (always a plus), wouldn’t aggressively compete for food and territory, and would gravitate towards different parts of the exhibit.

The structure was designed to mimic a natural habitat as closely as possible so that, for example, smaller fish who would naturally spend their time hanging out in the shadow of a coral shelf can do exactly that, while others like sharks and rays have plenty of open water to glide around in. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience it takes to choose fish who not only meet all of the above criteria for getting along but are also beautiful, fun to watch, and able to be obtained from ethical sources? I hope they’re incredibly proud of the thriving underwater community they’ve put together because it seems to be a huge success. It’s almost impossible to pry me away from this exhibit, which has multiple viewing points throughout the aquarium.

 

Grand Aquarium at the Boardwalk Branson

Majestic Sea Flap Flap (That’s definitely a scientific name.)

 

But it gets much more intricate than just sharing space and food! I became an instant fan of these colorful creatures:

Twospot Anthias at Aquarium in Branson

On Wednesdays, they wear pink.

While their bold fashion choices definitely get a thumbs-up from me, what makes the Two-Spotted Anthias so cool is their social structure, which is common among several Anthias species. They have an intricate social hierarchy that influences their coloring (They become more vibrant as they climb the social ladder), they’re all born female, and if there’s no male around, one of the large dominant females will just become male. Problem solved!

Branson Boardwalk Aquarium pink two spot Anthias

This fish is just daring you to challenge her place in the social hierarchy. Bring it on. 

 

Branson Aquarium Mermaid Palace

Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson

Branson Aquarium Fun Facts   Don’t overlook the art!

As a person who spent their last birthday flying 1,100 miles to go to an immersive art exhibit with my BFF I might be a little biased here, but the incredible artwork that decorates the aquarium really adds to the experience. I was chatting with Dani, one of the awesome aquarists who works so hard to take care of the animals here, and she mentioned that all of the amazing artistic details almost make it feel like an art gallery filled with fish! (Be sure to check out her Instagram – amazing fish photos and you’ll learn so many fun facts!) If you’re curious about the artists who made the aquarium so beautiful, check out this page on the Aquarium at the Boardwalk website to learn all about who created each aspect of the overall design.

The Mermaid Palace (pictured above) is decked out in gold leaf, custom-designed flooring, hand-painted murals, and hand-carved statues. It’s even prettier in person with the lighting and the music and the swirling sardines in the center display!

Branson Missouri Aquarium Mermaid Room

 

 

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A post shared by Crystal Ward (@andblueskyblog)

 

The beauty isn’t limited to just this room, though, you’ll spot gorgeous design details all throughout the aquarium.

And speaking of artwork…

 

trompe l'olei mural john pugh branson octopus

Aquarium in Branson Missouri Visitor Info     The back of the building features a breakout work of art!

I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to notice the BACK of the aquarium. It’s easy to get distracted by the giant silver octopus out front, but the more time you spend examining the mural on the other side of the building, the more amazing you realize it is!

 

John Pugh mural in Branson

This spectacular optical illusion was painted by John Pugh, who specializes in Trompe l’oeil images (which literally translates to “deceiving the eye”). This acclaimed artist is also an underwater enthusiast, and he used the Giant Pacific Octopus’s reputation for being a skilled escape artist to create this captivating mural of an octopus literally breaking out of the building!

 

  So Many Sardines and Spectacular Seahorses!

We discussed the gorgeous Mermaid Palace back in #6, but the incredible art isn’t all there is to see in that room!

 

Branson Boardwalk Inside Aquarium Sardines

If the central cylinder of sardines was one of those games where you guess how many jellybeans are in a jar, I would have lost. Terribly.

This fantastic fishnado is actually home to almost 3,000 sardines – by far the most of any species in the building!

Aquarium in Branson Missouri Seahorses

The seahorse exhibit in this room is also noteworthy! Most aquariums have fairly small seahorse tanks since they don’t get very big (lined seahorses like these only grow to about 6″ long), but the Aquarium at the Boardwalk wanted to give these beautiful animals a palatial residence! Be sure to keep an eye out for a the Mandarin Dragonet fish that share this tank with the seahorses. They’re gorgeous!

 

branson missouri aquarium scuba diver cleaning

Branson MO aquarium info So much love and dedication goes into making your experience memorable.

From sparkling clean glass to happy, healthy animals, so much work goes into making the aquarium both beautiful and a place you can feel good about visiting. It actually reminded me a bit of my Walt Disney World cast member days because just like at the theme parks, there are a million things going on “backstage” to make the guest experience great that you’d never think about – chopping up ingredients for meals in the fully-equipped kitchen, testing water samples, and even scuba diving into the big tank for regular cleanings.

Branson aquarium inside

This is also a good place to mention what goes into bringing the fish to their new home at the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson! Every single fish you see was ethically sourced and transported as quickly and carefully as possible to ensure their health and safety. This involved some long road trips, including one to pick up the resident sea turtle, who was injured by a boat and not eligible to be released into the wild after she was rehabilitated. Since sea turtles are endangered, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has incredibly strict regulations for facilities that care for them (Yes, I read through their entire document on care requirements – #nerd), so you know she’ll be living her absolute best life while hopefully inspiring visitors to protect the oceans and their inhabitants!

Sea Turtle Aquarium in Branson Missouri

Branson Boardwalk Aquarium Fun Facts   You’re basically saving the planet by visiting.

Your visit to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson helps to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, which is using innovative methods to restore the devastated colonies in Florida’s Coral Reef. Coral reefs are incredibly important – They’re complex ecosystems that support around 25% of all marine life, reduce coastal erosion, and are even being used to develop new life-saving medicines for humans! Without them, the fishing industry would collapse, the loss of habitat would be devastating to countless plants and animals, the tourism around snorkeling and diving would drastically diminish, and weather events like typhoons and hurricanes would wreak even more havoc on coastal cities.

 

Coral Restoration at Branson Aquarium

Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson

You can see dozens of different kinds of coral in the aquarium and learn more about how amazing corals are and how the we can support them in this interview on the Coral Restoration Foundation’s website! (No seriously, it’s a great read! Go learn things!)

 

zebra eels inside Branson Aquarium

Which of these 10 fun facts got you the most excited to visit the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson? Leave a comment and let me know! And as great as it looks in all of the photos here and over on my Instagram, it’s definitely something you have to see in person! If you’re planning a trip to Branson, be sure to put the aquarium on your must-do list!

Check out my other Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson post for Branson Aquarium prices, ticket deals, and other handy info that’s helpful to know before you go!

Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk Fun Facts

Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, MO

Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, MO

 

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, MO and wanted to share my experience with you guys!

 

Hollywood Wax Museum Branson MO King Kong

I received complimentary admission in exchange for an honest review.

 

I recruited my friend Debbie to come with me – this kind of attraction is best with a friend who is totally ready to take a bunch of silly photos with you. It’s a great rainy-day activity, and will appeal to a pretty wide range of ages. (I don’t think small children would get much out of the experience, but kids old enough to recognize the celebrities and enjoy getting their photo taken will probably enjoy it.)

 

It’s almost impossible to miss the Hollywood Wax Museum as you’re driving down Highway 76 in Branson, which is the main street where most of the live music shows are located. In addition to the eye-catching King Kong above, the exterior features a Mt. Rushmore-style sculpture featuring classic stars:

 

Branson MO Wax Museum rushmore faces on branson 76

 

There are a few different options for Branson Hollywood Wax Museum tickets available.

They’ve recently changed their pricing structure so instead of one set price, it varies a bit depending on the time of year. For example, a Tuesday in January when Branson is pretty empty will be significantly cheaper than visiting on the 4th of July.

You can buy a ticket for just the Wax Museum, which at the time of posting starts at $23.99 ($13.99 for kids), or you can purchase an All Access Pass that also includes admission to Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors, the Castle of Chaos 5-D ride/game experience, and Shoot for the Stars Mini Golf, all of which are on-site and range from $13-16 each if purchased separately. The All Access Pass currently ranges from $33.99-$39.99 ($19.99 for kids), so you get a lot of extra entertainment for just a few dollars more! I even have a Branson Hollywood Wax Museum coupon that you guys can print out – it gets you $2 off each All Access Pass for up to six people! Score!

 

The BEST Option for Branson Wax Museum Tickets!

BUT WAIT! Are you also planning to visit the new Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk? They’re owned by the same company as the wax museum, and they offer a combo ticket that’s a really good deal! It’s called the Five’r ticket and for some reason it’s listed here on the aquarium’s website but not on the wax museum website! You get the aquarium and everything listed in the All Access Pass above and the price ranges from $44.99-64.99 for adults and $19.99-$24.99 for kids. The child pass being basically the same price a the All Access Pass is an amazing deal since regular child tickets for the aquarium are usually $15.99! (Adults are $29.99-$34.99) So even if you’re *only* planning to do the wax museum and the aquarium without visiting any of the smaller attractions, it’s still an amazing deal.

Castle of Chaos Branson MO

 

What to expect at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson

We went fairly late in the evening and wound up spending about two hours in just the Hollywood Wax Museum, but hopefully I can return at another time and write about the other three attractions. They all get good reviews on TripAdvisor, and your pass is good all day so you can always do one attraction in the morning, come back for another in the afternoon, and two more in the evening.

 

Branson MO Wax Museum Pop Stars

 

The Hollywood Wax Museum has exhibits spread out across two floors. (You can choose stairs or elevator to access the upper level.) Most rooms feature celebrities that all fit a certain theme, from classic Hollywood with Audrey Hepburn and Judy Garland to country music superstars including Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. I like that they offer wax figures from a pretty wide range of eras and genres, so your teens can get just as excited about Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift as grandma does about taking a photo with Frank Sinatra. (Or hey, maybe it’s Grandma who’s the Bieber super-fan and your 10th grader is into Old Blue Eyes. You get the idea!)

 

A few more classic stars:

Branson MO Wax Museum Audrey Hepburn Photo Op

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Step Into History at the Titanic Museum in Branson – Updated for 2022!

Step Into History at the Titanic Museum in Branson – Updated for 2022!

If you’ve ever driven down Highway 76 in Branson, Missouri (something I do several times a week), you’ll know it’s impossible to miss the Titanic Museum Attraction as you pass.

 

Note: Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which support this site at no additional cost to you. These go a long way to helping me continue to offer first-hand experience and authentic reviews!

 

Branson Titanic Museum

 

I visited once waaaaay back when it first opened and then again recently. They’ve definitely added a lot to their collection since my first visit, and a few things have changed. I’ll fill you in on all of it!

One note before we begin – Photos and videos were not allowed inside the attraction on my last visit, so pardon the lack of photos taken by me in this post. (I have borrowed a few from the media section of their website so that you will have some visuals!) They said that it’s for copyright reasons, and it does preserve the reverent atmosphere, but it did lessen my enjoyment a little bit.  Since I couldn’t take photos of things and people I wanted to look up more info on, I jotted down notes instead.

However! As of 2022, they are now allowing photos inside the museum again! I’m super excited about this and hope to return soon!

 

Titanic museum branson grand staircase
Image via the Titanic Museum Attraction media page.

Fun Fact: The Branson Titanic Museum grand staircase is built to the same scale as the original!

(As a side note, I think the no photography rule is a newer one, since I remember being able to take photos the first time I visited. There are quite a few photos on TripAdvisor, but I’m a rule follower so I didn’t take any during my visit.)

 

 

Everyone knows the basic story of the Titanic, but it’s fascinating to learn more about specific passengers. Upon entering, you receive a boarding pass (Mine is above) with the name and brief story of a real passenger, as well as a listening device for the audio tour. As you tour the museum, you can keep an eye out for photos and stories about your passenger, and find their name on the memorial wall at the end to see if they survived or not. For the audio tour, most exhibits have a number that can be typed into your device to play information. The audio content expands on the written descriptions, and sometimes includes stories from survivors. Some exhibits and artifacts have a second number, which is for the kid’s version of the audio tour.

Most of the exhibits are permanent, but they also have temporary ones that last for a few months. During my visit, there was a collection of fashion designed by Lady Duff Gordon, one of the first class passengers.

 

 

The second one from the left reminded me a lot of this dress from the Titanic movie:

Not the same cut, obviously, but similar colors and the same thick ribbon empire waist. I’d guess that the movie’s costume department took a lot of inspiration from Lady Duff Gordon’s designs! You can check the Titanic Museum Attraction’s website to see what the current rotating exhibit is before visiting.

 

Touring the Branson Titanic Museum takes about 90 minutes for the average visitor – someone who stops to read a fair amount of the info and examine the exhibits and artifacts, but not to read and listen to every word. You’ll find life-size recreations of the accommodations, including a third class cabin with tiny little bunk beds, authentic recovered artifacts including life jackets, and an interesting display that shows the difference between the first, second, an third-class dinnerware and menus.

 

inside Titanic Museum Branson
Image courtesy of the Titanic Museum’s media page.

 

Image via Titanic Branson’s media page.

 

In addition to the artifacts, you’ll find some interactive exhibits. In one area, you can try to balance on the sloping surface of the deck as the ship tilted to steeper angles while sinking, while another spot offers the opportunity to see how long you can hold your hand in 28-degree water, which is the temperature the water was when the ship sank.

 

Sloping Deck at Branson Titanic Museum
Image via the Titanic Museum Attraction media page.

 

As you exit the museum, you’ll find a small gift shop with an array of memorabilia and an impressive selection of Titanic-related books.

Books about the Titanic in the Titanic Museum the gift shop

 

A few cool notes about the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson:

*They offer early admission for guests with autism once a week so that they can have a more comfortable touring experience.

*There’s an education guide on their website with ways to incorporate lessons in almost every subject around the Titanic. It would be a fantastic resource for home schoolers! There’s also a scavenger hunt you can print out so kids can search for the answers as you explore.

*They started a podcast that tells the stories of the passengers.

*While most of the museum is kept at a comfortable temperature, when you walk across the starlit promenade deck outside of the captain’s quarters, you’ll notice a distinct chill in the air. I noticed that a nearby thermostat was set to 52 degrees to create the feeling of actually being out at sea on a cold night without making visitors uncomfortably cold. Just a cool example of attention to detail.

*I was surprised to learn that a lot of the crew members were very young – like 14 or 15. Makes sense since this was long before labor laws, but that’s definitely not how I’ve ever pictured the crew.

 

Titanic Museum in Branson

Branson Titanic Museum

 

Be sure to take a moment to pose for some photos outside of the museum before you leave! It’s built to 50% scale and looks so realistic that you can almost forget you’re right in the middle of the Branson 76 Strip.

 

Branson Titanic Museum Tickets:

If you don’t want to use the Groupon option below, you can find Branson Titanic Museum Tickets here. As of March 2022, they are still doing reserved ticket times, which do sell out, so booking your tickets in advance is highly recommended! Adults are currently $39 and children are $15.

 

Branson Titanic Museum Coupons:

I did a bit of searching, and it looks like you can usually get discount Titanic museum tickets on Groupon. Right now the deal is $3 off the regular price. Discount Titanic Museum tickets for military and homeschool educators are available through the box office. They also offer a family pass that covers two adults and up to four children for $115 + tax.

Titanic Museum Branson Hours for 2022:

The museum hours change a bit throughout the year, but they have a handy calendar available on their website that lists the exact hours for each day. The most popular hours are 9 am until 7 or 8 pm. Unlike some Branson attractions, they do stay open year-round!

In summary…

Overall, this is a sort of difficult experience to describe. I can’t call it “fun” given the tragedy that it comes from, but it is definitely interesting and worth doing. To learn more, visit the Titanic Branson website and the Titanic Museum Attraction Facebook page, which posts the latest info and photos from both the Branson and Pigeon Forge museums. You can also find plenty of Titanic Museum reviews and photos on TripAdvisor!

Are you fascinated by shipwrecks? Be sure to check out my review of Shipwrecked Treasure Museum in Branson!

Trail Riding in Branson, MO at Pot A Gold Stables

Trail Riding in Branson, MO at Pot A Gold Stables

*2022 Update* Pot A Gold is now closed. If you’re looking for horseback riding in Branson, try Bear Creek Dogwood Canyon or Ozark Mountain Trail Rides near Shepherd of the Hills!

 

In my opinion, almost any beautiful walk can be even better if you’re watching the scenery from horseback. As much as I love hiking, almost every time I’m walking through the woods I think, “This would be so much better if I was riding.”

 

branson missouri horseback riding

 

Back in July, I was browsing the #explorebranson hashtag on Instagram in search of fun new things to do, and got SUPER excited when a post from Pot A Gold Stables showed up in the feed. I had NO idea there was a new trail riding place near Branson! If you read my blog often, you might remember that I’ve been taking Hunter/Jumper (English) riding lessons for a little over a year, but I haven’t had the chance to go trail riding in a couple of years, so a relaxing trail ride through the Ozarks sounded perfect!

 

 

Pot A Gold Stables is located just across Lake Taneycomo from Downtown Branson on the same property as the Sycamore Creek Family Ranch, which serves as an event and wedding venue. Although the ranch is off the beaten path, it’s easy to find. From the Branson Landing area, you just cross the bridge and only have to make two turns after that – about a ten minute drive. The final road leading up to the stable is gravel, but it’s pretty smooth for a gravel road and my little car had no problem with it. There’s parking just a few steps from the barn, which is super convenient!

 

horseback riding branson mo

 

All of THAT said, I was still late getting there for my ride. 😂 I had only glanced at the map and thought I’d be taking a totally different highway to get there, and only discovered when checking directions right before I left that it was a good 15 minutes farther away from my house than I thought. Oops! Thankfully I’d been planning to leave early anyway, so I still arrived well before the actual start time. Most of the other guests were already paired up with horses by that point, though, so I’m glad I wasn’t any later! (You do need to make reservations for your ride so the trail guides know in advance how many people to expect and thus how many horses to have ready. That also means that if you’re running a few minutes late like I was, they know to wait for you. Definitely aim for being early, though. Nobody wants to be the guy who everyone had to wait for. And allow some extra time for traffic if you have to drive through Branson!)

Pot A Gold Western Adventures offers one, two, and three hour trail rides, which I LOVE. It’s so hard to find a barn that offers rides longer than one hour! If this is your first time on a horse, you’ll probably want to stick with an hour, but if it’s something you’ve done before and know you like, definitely go for the two hour ride! For me, an hour on horseback just flies by, so I’m all about the 2 and 3 hour options!

 

Adorable donkeys also live on the ranch

 

They also offer 20-minute lead pony rides, which are great for kids that are too young to join in the regular trail rides but want the chance to try it out. (Kids need to be at least 6 to go on the regular rides, and riding on the same horse as a parent is not allowed for safety reasons.)

On the opposite end of things, they don’t have a weight restriction to ride but you do need to let them know if you’re over 250 lbs when you make the reservation so they can have a horse ready to accommodate you. I know that can be a delicate subject to bring up to a stranger, but both you and the horse will be way more comfortable and safe!

 

 

I got super lucky with weather the morning of my ride! It was overcast and even sprinkling a little on my drive there,  but the rain stopped before it was time to ride and we got to enjoy the cooler temperatures that came with it. It started out at about 72 degrees and hit the upper 70s by the end of my two hour ride. (For the record, rides still go out as long as it’s not raining too badly. They do reschedule if the weather conditions are going to make things unsafe, though.)

 

A few horseback trail riding tips if you haven’t been before:

 

What should you wear for a trail ride, and what should you bring along?

Definitely wear long pants – jeans are probably going to be the most comfortable. I know shorts might seem like a good idea when it’s hot, but trust me, they’re not. Not only do legs rubbing against your saddle get painful, but you’re riding through the woods where branches and bushes can scratch bare skin. Jeans are your friend!

Closed toed shoes are another must. Boots are great, but tennis shoes will work just fine in a pinch. I actually tend to ride in a pair of $30 boots from Target most of the time. Something with about a 1-inch heel is ideal, because that keeps your foot from slipping through the stirrup. Avoid anything with an actual 2+ inch heel, though.

(As a side note, there are several great thrift stores in Branson, so if you’re visiting and want to pack light, you could easily find jeans and boots for a few dollars and then just re-donate them before you leave town.) Depending on the weather, you may also want to bring a hat or sunglasses and a light jacket. Be sure to bring a bottle of water (saddle bags are available so you can bring it with you on the ride), and if it’s a hot day, you might want to bring two! Tips for your trail guides are not required but are definitely appreciated, so you may want to bring some cash as well.

Children are required to wear helmets, but older teens and adults can choose whether they’d like to or not. The horses are very well trained and used to beginners, but even with the best trained animal there’s always a chance something could happen. I always wear a helmet when I’m riding English, but generally don’t for Western. Just go with whatever you’re more comfortable with!

 

horseback riding in branson missouri

Pausing by the lake for photos

 

To be honest, I’m back an forth on the idea of bringing your phone along. One of the guides on my ride was awesome about taking photos for people and texting them to them, and you can always ask to have a photo taken on your horse before you start or end your ride. I did bring my phone along because I’m very comfortable on horses and experienced enough to judge when I feel safe taking it out to snap some photos. In general, though, it’s better to focus on the ride and keep both hands on the wheel, so to speak. Nobody wants to have to drop a billion dollars on a new iPhone because it fell out of your pocket and the horse stepped on it. (Seriously – even with 30+ years under my belt, I’ve dropped my phone on a trail ride before. I’m super lucky I heard it fall or I probably never would have found it!)

 

horseback riding in branson mo

 

Let’s get back to my actual experience, though! I wound up riding a super sweet little mare named Izzy. I could tell from the beginning that she was super chill and I’d be able to just relax and enjoy my ride, which is exactly what I’d been hoping to do! A funny side note – she was over a foot shorter than the horse I usually ride for jumping, so when it came time to get off her it was like, “WHOA, there’s the ground already!” I gave her lots of love post-ride and asked the guides if it would be ok to give her some of the horse treats I keep in my car (What, everyone does that, right?) as a reward for her hard work. We became instant buddies.

 

 

The trails at the ranch are absolutely beautiful. You get to ride through the woods, along Lake Taneycomo, through big open fields, and even down a path that winds through a patch of bamboo that’s like 12 feet high! Most of the ride is very relaxed and easy, but there are a few challenging parts mixed in for a little excitement. The location also makes it a perfect place to spot wildlife. We saw baby deer on my ride, but bald eagles, herons on the lake, giant groundhogs, an other Missouri wildlife are also common.

 

branson mo horseback riding

 

The horses are all very well trained and beginner-friendly. A lot of horses would freak out at things like passing a big tractor or seeing a deer jump out, but nothing bothered these guys. Another common issue with trails horses is being barn sour (not wanting to leave the barn and wanting to run when they’re getting close to home), but the Pot A Gold horses stayed relaxed the whole time. At the same time, if you actually do have riding experience, you’ll notice that they don’t just mindlessly follow the horse in front of them like a lot of trail horses do. I played around with giving Izzy some very subtle cues while we rode, and was pleasantly surprised by how well she listened to me.

 

Pot A Gold’s Branson location is currently closed for the season because riding in 30 degree weather is no fun for anyone, but if you’re planning to visit Branson in 2019, be sure to put it on your list of Missouri adventures, as the current plan is to re-open in March!

 

I need to add an important note here at the end: I received a complimentary trail ride in exchange for sharing my experience with my readers- pretty standard for travel blogging, but I actually started working for this company about a month after my first ride. I wrote most of this post right after the trail ride and before I started working there, so I’m glad I preserved my original opinions fresh after the experience before I started viewing everything through an insider lens! I tried to primarily only use photos from that first ride, too, but I did end up adding in a few photos from later rides just to flesh the post out a bit. I’m working on another post about my experiences during my first season of guiding trail rides, but I wanted to keep this post in the pure, unbiased view of a guest. Hope that makes sense? Either way, feel free to fire away with questions whether they’re about trail riding in Branson or trail riding on vacation in general or working with horses or anything else and I’m happy to answer!

 

 

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(Yes, that’s me “Woo-hoo!”-ing on Polka Dot in the back. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen plenty of Polka Dot!)

horseback riding branson missouri

 

You can find Pot A Gold Western Adventures on Facebook and Instagram (you’ll spot me in a few pics there!), and learn more on their website!

Fantastic Caverns

Fantastic Caverns

Caves in Springfield MO

 

A fun fact that most people don’t know: Missouri is FULL of caves. Over 6,000 of them, to be more specific. Only 16 caves in Missouri offer tours, and one of those, Fantastic Caverns in Springfield Missouri, offers a ride-through tour on a tram.

Fantastic Caverns is America’s only ride-through cave. This is a BIG deal – there are only a handful of ride-through caves in the entire world! I love exploring caves but most require visitors to be in pretty good shape physically, since you’re likely to be stooping down to fit through low passages, climbing stairs and inclines, and generally on your feet for around an hour. The pathways are sometimes narrow, low, and inclined in order to preserve as much of the natural environment as possible, but this makes them inaccessible to a lot of people – those with mobility disabilities, elderly visitors, small children who can’t walk through on their own, etc. So while I totally understand why not every cave can offer a more accessible tour, it’s awesome that there’s at least one cave that pretty much anyone can visit comfortably!

As you guys might have noticed, I always try to include as much info as possible to help travelers with disabilities or other special circumstances plan their trips, since I know that can be hard to find. If you have any questions that I don’t cover, feel free to reach out in the comments or email! (And yes, the trams have ramps so they’re wheelchair accessible! You may want to check with them if you have a chair that’s especially wide or tall, though.) I just learned while browsing their Facebook that the tour is even dog-friendly, so this is also a perfect choice for anyone with a service dog or even just a well-behaved furry traveling companion!

As you might remember from my summer posts, this spring and summer have been SO HOT, so I started looking around for local attractions that doubled as a great place to cool off. The Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau was kind enough to send me a press pass that allowed me to visit Fantastic Caverns so I could report back to you guys with some honest feedback and tips for visiting.

 

Fantastic Caverns Springfield MO

 

Directions To Fantastic Caverns:

Ignore what Siri is telling you to do. She doesn’t know your life. Follow the signs instead. (Basically, if GPS tries to send you on a weird loop to the west of town, ignore that and either take Kansas Expressway up past the fairgrounds or use I-44 exit 77. ALL of the Fantastic Caverns signs say exit 77, so of course my phone yelled at me when I didn’t take exit 75 like it wanted me to.) Just be prepared for the fact that you’re going to feel like you’re heading out into the middle of nowhere and driving a few miles down farm roads. Caves don’t really keep visitor convenience in mind when they’re forming. 😂

 

directions to Fantastic Caverns

🎶 I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes… 🎶

 

Fantastic Caverns Tours:

The cave is open almost every day of the year (closed Thanksgiving and December 24th & 25th) from 8 a.m. until around dusk (so 4 p.m. in the winter and 8 p.m. in the summer) and tours go out about every 20-30 minutes, so you can arrive whenever you’d like and you probably won’t have much of a wait before your tour departs. I had about 15 minutes, which gave me time to use the restroom, browse the Fantastic Caverns gift shop, and check out some of the educational material in the waiting area. (They have some really cool books that you can flip through!) There’s also a vending machine with bottled soda, tea, lemonade, and water available at really reasonable prices (as in $1 – $1.50). In fact, all of the gift shop prices seemed really reasonable. They had baseball caps for $5, and lots of cool gemstones for around $1-2 each.

 

Fantastic caverns gift shop

These agate pieces in the Fantastic Caverns Gift Shop were $1.50. They also had turquoise and rose quartz (among others) for 99 cents.

 

When tour time rolls around, everyone boards a tram that holds around 30 people. Here’s a peek at what those look like:

Ride Through Caves in Springfield MO

 

The tour guide is also your driver, so sitting towards the front can make it easier to hear, but the cave acoustics are pretty good so I don’t think sitting towards the back will affect the ability to hear what’s being said much, if at all. I sat at the front of the large part of the tram, and I did notice a bit of a fuel smell up there. (The trams are powered by clean-burning propane in an attempt to preserve the cave as much as possible.)

The tour travels a path carved out by an ancient river and makes a loop that goes about half a mile into the cave and then back out in a sort of horseshoe shape. The lower part of the cave system, which is much larger and contains creatures like cave crayfish and tri-colored bats, is not visited during the tour.

 

A Bit of Fantastic Caverns History:

Although the cave was discovered in 1862 by a farmer and his dog, it wasn’t explored until 1867 when twelve women answered an ad seeking people to investigate the cave. Can we pause and acknowledge how badass those women were? Can you imagine going into a big dark cave with only candlelight and NO idea what you might find in there? The women wrote their names on the cave walls, and those were eventually traced over to preserve them. You’ll see them on the tour!

Fantastic Caverns History

 

The caverns served as a speakeasy during prohibition, and in the 50s it became a popular concert hall due to the awesome acoustics. The room pictured below is known as the Auditorium, and was the site of countless concerts.

 

Caves Springfield MO

 

The jeep-driven tours began in 1961, and have been going strong ever since. I visited once on a school trip in the late 80s or early 90s, but didn’t remember much from that visit , so I was excited to see what was waiting below ground.

 

The Tour!

The cave tour takes approximately one hour and is a fantastic introduction to caves. I thought they did a great job of teaching about caves – how different formations grow, the history, etc – without overwhelming visitors with too much info.

One amusing note:  You’re welcome to take as many photos as you like, and the guide mentioned that flash photos are allowed. I tried that in one spot, but I should’ve known better! If you’ve ever tried to take a flash photo in a super humid place, you already know what happened.

Majestic, isn’t it? 😂

Here’s almost the same photo without the flash:

Formations In Caves Springfield MO

 

The lighting in the cave is designed to illuminate the cool formations (In 2017 they replaced their incandescent bulbs with LEDs for environmental reasons), so you’re likely to get pretty good photos without the flash, especially when the tram is stopped, which is often. However, the mix of dark cave and lighted formations probably isn’t going to result in phenomenal photos if you’re using your phone or a basic point-and-shoot camera. The pics in this post were taken with my dinosaur of an iPhone 5s. I didn’t get any amazing shots, but overall the quality was pretty decent given that I was photographing things that were usually 20+ feet away in weird light. Also on that note, if you don’t know, caves are wet. Don’t bring in a camera that you’re not ok with an occasional large drop of water falling on.

Take a look at those formations above and then consider this: they grow at an average rate of one cubic inch per 100 years. And those guys above? They’re pretty big. For scale:

Fantastic Caverns Branson MO

Tour guide near formations for scale. 

There is one formation that they know the exact age of! Back in 1941, this concrete cylinder was added to the cave. (We were told why, but I’ve completely forgotten.) Since it reaches through the roof of the cave and allows water in, formations started to grow around it. Sorry for the bad photo, but again, caves aren’t awesome lighting for pics! But the little formations that reach out from the pole are now 3/4 inch long. After 77 years. Just something to keep in mind when looking at the huge ones in other photos!

 

 

Here’s one more to give you the scope of how old some of these cave formations are:

Fantastic Caverns Missouri

 

The smaller stalactites seem unremarkable until you think about how it took them almost a millennia to get THAT big. It was also fascinating to learn that we were 90-120 feet below ground! It never felt like we were descending much, but the entrance to the cave is set into a hill, so you’re a good 30-ish feet? (I’m estimating) underground from the beginning.

Caves in Springfield Missouri

 

Although you’re WAY underground, the cave is high and wide enough in most places that I doubt anyone would experience claustrophobia. You do go under a few low ceilings where taller people need to watch their heads, but there are no tight, enclosed spaces on the tour. (Passages can often be cramped on walk-through tours, so again, this is a great option for those worried about doing a cave tour for that reason.)

 

 

While we’re talking about possible worries, there is one brief part where the tour guide turns off the lights so that you can experience total darkness. There’s so much ambient light now that the only places you can truly experience total darkness with ZERO light is deep within a cave or way down in the ocean. The darkness is maybe 10-15 seconds? There were some small children in our group and they seemed to handle it well (The guide had them count down 3…2…1… to the lights going out, which I think helps), but if you’re traveling with kids you know them best – if they’re hardcore afraid of the dark, just keep this in mind. There are also brief demonstrations of what exploring by candlelight would have looked like, but otherwise the tour has plenty of lighting.

(I’m trying co cover all of the bases for anxious adventurers, but if I’ve left anything out feel free to ask!)

 

Cool caves in Springfield Missouri

 

It’s about 60 degrees inside Fantastic Caverns year-round, so keep that in mind when planning your visit! It’s a perfect way to cool off a bit on a super hot summer day. I wore jeans and a 3/4-sleeve top and was perfectly comfortable. I almost brought a jacket since I worried I’d be cold, but it never felt chilly in there – just pleasantly cool.  (Maybe the lack of wind helps?)

Beautiful Caves near Branson MO

Caves near Springfield MO

caverns in Missouri

This was one of my favorite spots. It’s called the Breakdown Room, because the ceiling has fallen in several times. It looks pretty sound now- look at that super sturdy column holding things up on the left! 😂

 

Caves near Branson MO

 

Souvenir photos of your tour group are taken inside the cave, and are available at the end of the tour for $12. (I believe they were 5×7’s in a cardboard folder-style frame.) Afterwards, you’re free to wander the visitor’s center, and there’s even a 1/2 mile trail down to a spring that I really wish I’d had time to check out! (There was a huge storm rolling in around the time my tour ended, so I was hoping to make the hour drive home before it hit. I totally failed at that!)

 

As you’re leaving, there are again signs to point you back towards I-44 and Kansas Expressway, which I appreciated since you really are kind of in the middle of nowhere. There’s also a really nice park called Ritter Springs Park just down the road. I stopped for a few minutes and found that there’s some great playground equipment and what looked like a gorgeous trail that I sadly didn’t have time to explore due to the aforementioned impending storm.

 

Fantastic Caverns Admission Prices

As of Spring 2022, Fantastic Caverns Tickets are $30 for adults, $17 for children, and kids under 5 are free. This is a little higher than most other local caves I’m familiar with (Talking Rocks Cavern in Branson West is $23 for adults, Onyx Cave in Arkansas is $12 for adults, and Cosmic Cavern in Arkansas is $20), but I think the perk of getting to ride through is worth the extra cost, especially if it means your whole travel group gets to do something together vs. some family members or friends having to sit it out.

Fantastic Caverns is just a few minutes from Dickerson Park Zoo, which I wrote about a little over a year ago (that post is here!) so if you’re visiting Springfield, the two would be a perfect combination for a day of educational fun!

Check out the Fantastic Caverns Website for more history and updated info on hours, visit their Facebook page for lots of great info and videos, and of course, Instagram for pretty pictures. You can also find more Fantastic Caverns Reviews and photos on TripAdvisor.

Feel free to ask me any questions that I missed answering down in the comments I’m planning to write about some other caves in the Ozarks soon, so if there’s anything you’d like to know, just ask!