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A Canyon Sanctuary

Branson may be known as the Music Show Capital of the World, but it also enjoys a wonderful natural setting in the Ozark Mountains. Visitors see two mountain lakes as they make their way around town; further away from the famous Highway 76, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a welcome respite for nature lovers.

It takes a bit of a drive to get to Dogwood Canyon, which sits on the border of Missouri and Arkansas. Groups that make out are in for a treat, though. This 10,000-acre nature preserve highlights some of the most beautiful geological features of the Ozarks: deep limestone canyons, caves, ponds, waterfalls and other impressive formations. Paved sidewalks and rougher trails wind throughout the park, giving visitors a variety of ways to explore. Groups can come in to the welcome center together, and then split up to do different activities such as walking/hinking, bicycle tours, ATV rides and Segway tours.

I chose to explore the park on horseback. Though many of the other activity options take visitors through the wooded paths at the bottom of the canyon, horseback adventures begin at a corral at the top side of the park. I took a one-hour guided ride, along with a friend from the Branson Area CVB. During the ride, our guide took us up and down trails that cut across the top of Ozark hills overlooking Dogwood Canyon. We rode slowly, going by the pastures where the park staff is raising a herd of bison, and through fields where other ‘off-duty’ horses roamed freely, enjoying the sunshine on a warm April morning.

The trail rides are easy, relaxed activities that almost anyone could do, and guides can accomodate groups of up to 12 people on each ride. Twice a week, the guides take more advanced riders out on half-day excursions. Bigger groups can have their own experiences on tram rides through the park, which last two hours and include visits to the bison and elk pastures. During the summer months, groups can have a chuckwagon dinner in the fields during the tram tour of the park.



Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.