Opting Outside In Branson MO


I find myself struggling for balance. I struggle to find balance between my professional self and my personal life. I love what I do and love helping others but I also love my own life and find that it provides me with a lot of rejuvenation that I need to be a better professional. I struggle to find balance between parenting and self care.  From the minute I wake in the morning to the minute I go to sleep, I feel as if I am caring for others. And I honestly love that. But occasionally I know I need some me time. I find myself fighting for that uninterrupted half hour on the treadmill, or the luxury of reading a book that wasn’t written with a tween in mind, or more basically, the ability to drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot.

Another area that I struggle a lot to find balance is between needs and wants.  I find myself turning around and feeling as if our lives and our home  is packed full with so many extra things. At times I feel suffocated and the need to purge the extras from our lives is overwhelming.  Cleaning out a closet is one thing but when that feeling sets in about our routines, schedules, our obligations, I find myself just wanting to get away; to take a break from the hustle and hit pause.  That is what camping does for me. It gives me those moments to get away and add breathing space to my life.

I found myself entering the holiday season feeling a little like a claustrophobic Ebeneezer Scrooge. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to face the confinement of winter or maybe the materialistic aspect of the holidays grabbed me by the throat and gave a squeeze. Either way, I was ready to fight back and create some air in our lives. To find a way of filling our lives with moments vs things.

This year, we opted to leave behind the big family dinner, the televised football games, and the intense Black Friday shopping sprees. We opted to spend Thanksgiving outside in a campground in Branson, Missouri.

We selected Branson for our Thanksgiving retreat for a few reasons. Branson is relatively close to home – a 4 hour drive south. Another reason is that the temperature in our state does change in that four hours. It becomes warmer the further south we go. We were sort of hoping to chase fall.

Branson is a near year round entertainment area. During the months of November and December Branson becomes a winter wonderland. The shows on the strip become holiday celebrations. There are drive through holiday light displays and drive through meet and greets with Santa and his reindeer. We also knew that we would find quieter activities for us to enjoy; hiking and trout fishing are always high on our favorite activities list.

We arrived in Branson the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My mother made the trip with us. My cousin and his girlfriend decided to meet us in Branson as well. We enjoyed five days/four nights of fun filled adventure in the Ozark Mountains using Branson Treehouse Adventures as the base camp for our adventures. By the time we left Branson, our lungs were full of fresh air, our souls were light and airy, and my Christmas spirit was fully restored.

If you are looking for a few magical moments to share with your family, here is a list of activities we enjoyed during our time in Branson:


The first place we visited was Branson’s Promised Land Zoo. This was the first year they turned the drive through zoo into a 2 mile Christmas Drive Light Show.  The trunks of trees were wrapped in lights, lights dangled from the trees. lights displayed the 12 days of Christmas, arches of lights  danced across the road. At the end of the road, we were able to get out of the truck and walk around a smaller area full of exotic animals. The Short Chic was very excited to pet a dingo.


We stumbled onto the Gift of Lights by accident. We had found our way down to The Landing to take a look at the fish in Lake Taneycomo. It was actually quiet cold on our first night in Branson, so we did not linger too long outside. As we made our way back to our base camp, we found an entrance to the Gift Of Lights so we pulled in and checked it out.

I would say this was our favorite drive through light tour between the two that we experienced on our first night. There was nothing special at the end but the lights were bright and fun to look at.


After a Thanksgiving morning hike and a Thanksgiving meal, we headed off to one of Branson’s largest attraction; Silver Dollar City. The park opened at 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night and closed at 10:00 p.m. which was plenty of time for us to wander around, ride some rides, catch a show or two, and see some lights.

Many people over the past decade have recommended visiting Silver Dollar City at Christmas time but recently, Silver Dollar City has up’ed their Christmas game by adding 6.5 million lights to create the Christmas in Midtown Light Show.  Their are lights on trees, houses, and generally any structure they can put them on. It reminded me of the Christmas movie Deck the Halls. Danny DeVito’s character wants his house visible from outer space. I am positive the Midtown area of Silver Dollar City is visible from outer space!

There are a few things we never leave Silver Dollar City without doing. Shopping is top of that list. And we did poke around every single shop in the place. My favorite shop of the trip was the Christmas store. I fell in love with the vintage camper section and wished I could bring all the trinkets home with me!

We also have to catch a show. We watched the Cajun Christmas show and we were delighted. We also caught the laser light show where all the lights danced and twinkled timed to music. I do hope my Snapchat friends enjoyed the show as much as we did!

We also enjoyed the Christmas Parade, Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade. There were marching soldiers, dancing moose, Rudolph, The Abominable Snowman, and yes, even Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

Other things we have to do is eat food! After an early Thanksgiving meal, we were ready for snacking when we got to Silver Dollar City. We enjoyed the Tator Twist, The Fresh Baked Cinnamon Bread, and Oliver’s Wassel.  Grandma and The Short Chic would not leave Silver Dollar City without some fresh saltwater taffy.

Silver Dollar City use to have a go in after 4 p.m. get the next day free deal. We had originally planned on that but that deal was not available during our visit. I was a little disappointed; there is no way you can possibly see all of the shows in a six hour time period. In the end, we saw what we could and we said our good-byes leaving the park ready for bed.


Lake Taneycomo maintains a constant cold temperature, making it great for trout fishing. Wayne loves to fish the tailwaters below Table Rock Dam at the public access site whenever he gets a chance. The dam was running 2 units of water, making a nice steady stream but on this trip the fish just were not biting. Still, what do they say: a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.

The dam was really close to our base camp. It took less than 15 minutes to get from Branson West to the parking lot. If you are new to this area and unsure how to find the fishing area below the dam look for the Shephard of the Hills Fish Hatchery. The public access area is behind it.


A new attraction from the last time we were in Branson is the Ferris Wheel. This ferris wheel was brought to Branson from the Chicago Pier. We decided to ride it but there was nothing we could do to convience Grandma to go with us. Almost as soon as we exited our ride, they announced we should find a seat and watch the show. Timed with the music, the Ferris Wheel put on a jaw dropping light show that we considered ourselves lucky to have seen!


If you don’t mind fighting the crowds, this is a fun place to come and visit. One of my oldest friends lives in Branson and she suggested we meet at The Farmhouse for lunch. The Farmhouse is right on Main Street on the same block as Dick’s Five and Dime. While my friend Jodi and I caught up and waited for a table, Wayne took Grandma and The Short Chic to the Five and Dime. Afterward we enjoyed a nice meal and some yummy blackberry cobbler.

If you are headed downtown, I suggest grabbing a piece of cake from Dino’s Cake and Coffee. Dino use to be located in the Landing but he has moved to Main Street, a half of a block east of the Dicks Five and Dime. Dino’s is a great place to grab a coffee and a slice of cake. With flavors such as 24 Karrot Carrot Cake, Chocolate Fudge, Italian Creme Cake, Red Velvet, and Coconut Creme you are gonna want a slice or two!


We spent our last afternoon in Branson shopping at the local Tanger Outlet Mall. The weather was perfect but I knew I did not want to leave this magical weekend without one last Christmas adventure. Shepard of The Hills is another attraction that Branson Landmark. During the holiday season, it becomes a drive through animation light display. As we waited in line, they had these large wooden boxes with 12 days of Christmas displays in them. They really helped build the excitement!

The Trail of Lights drive through really is long; a 160 acres to wind through. We love that you could buy homemade kettle corn as you passed the blacksmith barn and that elves handed out free candy!

After you finish the display your ticket is also good for a trip up Inspiration Tower; a 230 foot tower with panoramic views of Branson. We could see all of the places we had visited during our time there: Silver Dollar City, The Ferris Wheel, and the Branson strip. As we were leaving we enjoyed a quick visit with Santa Claus.

I enjoyed the visit to Trail of Lights. I think it was also the Short Chic’s favorite. Wayne however, he felt it was one drive through too many.

I am so excited that we took this trip and Opted Outside for Thanksgiving. I am thankful that my mother was able to go with us and that Cousin Dennis and his girlfriend drove down and joined us. I am not sure we will spend every Thanksgiving camping but it was a great use of a school holiday. We loved how magical Branson felt. Coming from a Kansas City girl, I can honestly say the Christmas lights in Branson made our Plaza look pale in comparison.


  1. Dana Bradley

    thank you thank you thank you! We were debating between our only destination this year so far – Bennett Spring; or Table Rock. You have made my decision for me!


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