A few notes about planning a trip to Branson

January 22, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

January and February are not the ideal months to discover Branson, Mo., because many of the three dozen theaters are in mothballs during those months. However, a group of Branson music-theater owners is trying to change that. According to the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, about a half-dozen entertainers plan to stay and perform in January and February 1995.

They include Jim Stafford, Moe Bandy, Bob Eubanks, Glenn Robinson and Maggie LaMee. Some businesses that plan to stay open include the IMAX Ozark Discovery Theatre, Ride the Ducks, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and the Shepherd of the Hills Inspiration Tower.

The entertainment season really begins in early March, and lasts through December. People in Branson say spring and early fall are peak times of the year for visitors. Another major draw is November and December, when many of the top-name entertainers offer Christmas shows.

Branson promoters say May through October are the best months to visit Branson. Virtually all of the indoor and outdoor theaters offer full schedules during those months.

July and August aren't particularly popular months for tourists, especially those from the north, because it's too hot then.

The average maximum temperature in Branson during July, the hottest month, is 89 degrees. The average low in July is 66. And the wettest month is May, with an average of 5.7 inches of rain. August is only a couple of degrees cooler.

Whatever the month, you should pack a jacket, casual clothing and comfortable footwear.

If you're considering a trip to Branson in the next year, here are some other things you should know:

* Accommodations: Approximately 20,000 motel, hotel, resort, bed-and-breakfast and condominium units are available. And there are more than 7,000 camping spaces, many of them open year-round.

* Tourist information: Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, telephone, (417) 334-4136 or (900) 884-2726766 ($1.50 per minute; average call, three minutes).

The office can supply information on motels, restaurants, shows and show times, and more.

* Show tickets: Several Branson businesses offer ticket packages and reservations to entertainment. The Chamber of Commerce can supply a complete list.

* Traffic: If you're on a bus tour, you won't have to worry about the traffic. But if you decide to drive, be prepared.

Visitors are encouraged to start their tour in old downtown Branson. Missouri Highway 76, known locally as 76 Country Blvd., West Highway 76 and "The Strip," leads west out of downtown Branson.

About 90 percent of the music theaters, museums, motels, restaurants and shopping centers line this five-mile-long, two-lane road, with a left-turn lane in the middle.

That main road gets congested, especially when multiple shows end at about the same time, and hundreds of buses and even more cars and pickups are trying to get from one end to the other.

Some secondary roads have been built that will help travelers miss some of the traffic. But drivers also are likely to encounter road construction during spring, summer and autumn.

A loop highway from the north to the south will be under construction in 1995. But it'll be a couple of years before it is completed.

The community has some shuttle buses that pick up riders at shopping centers and other gathering points.

Branson also has one taxi company. The cost is about $15 for a one-way ride from the west end of Branson to downtown. Sometimes it's convenient. But if you want a ride during a busy time of day, such as within an hour before or after the shows, you can be in for a lengthy wait.

Lakes

* Table Rock Lake, created in the 1950s, is a popular recreational lake that draws millions of visitors annually. Bass, crappie and other species are popular. The lake also offers boating, swimming, scuba diving and other activities.

* Lake Taneycomo is an excellent trout lake.

* Bull Shoals Lake is a less-populated and less-developed lake that offers much of the same recreational opportunities.

Theme parks

* Silver Dollar City: Built in 1960, atop Marvel Cave, it is a turn-of-the-century Ozarks community featuring handicrafts and artwork created by resident crafts people. Mountain music is a staple in the village, which also boasts street shows and restaurants.

* Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Theatre: It is the home of the nation's largest outdoor historical drama, based on Harold Bell Wright's novel of the same title. The homestead offers crafts, music, shops, games and other entertainment.

* Mutton Hollow Craft and Entertainment Village: It includes a museum, as well as an atmosphere for working crafts people, specialized shops and family entertainment. The park has daily shows at five theaters that feature clogging, bluegrass picking, magic, dancing and singing.

Other things to do

* Museums: Choose from the Branson Civil War Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum or the Ralph Foster Museum.

* Caves and caverns: Missouri is known as the "Cave State." Three caves in the Branson area offer tours. They are Cosmic Cavern, Fantastic Cavern and Marvel Cave.

* Stone Hill Winery. No admission charge. Open seven days a week.

* Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, in Springfield, Mo., 45 miles north of Branson. It's a museum and a shopping center, offering 150,000 square feet of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor equipment and clothing, stuffed animals, aquariums and restaurants.

* Precious Moments Chapel, Carthage, Mo., about 100 miles northwest of Branson. Designed by artist Samuel Butcher, creator of the Precious Moments greeting cards and gifts, the chapel consists of 54 murals. The largest is the 1,500-square-foot ceiling, which is all one mural. Butcher spent hundreds of hours lying on his back atop a scaffold 35 feet in the air to complete it. The chapel is considered by thousands of visitors annually as a place of inspiration and comfort.

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