For the 50+ Traveler

Branson, Missouri, is a popular destination for families. Located in the far southwestern part of the state, smack-dab in the middle of the Ozark Mountains, this small town has it all: rustic resorts, boating and other water sports, a myriad of entertainment options, and of course, Silver Dollar City. It’s one of the Midwest’s best-known and best-loved playgrounds.

It’s easy to spend an entire vacation in Branson, but did you know that there are many quirky, historic spots just a short drive from the town? If you’re looking for something different from your Ozarks vacation, here are a few road trips from Branson to consider.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum.

1. Mansfield, Missouri: Where Little House Was Born

About an hour east of Branson sits the small town of Mansfield, Missouri, where one of the most treasured American literary series was written. In the 1890s, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almanzo, settled there on a plot of land they called Rocky Ridge Farm. It was there where their daughter Rose was born and where Laura wrote the Little House books, which recalled her adventures as a young pioneer girl traveling the prairie with her family.

Fans of both the books and the classic television show will delight in the treasures on display at the family’s homes (the farmhouse where Laura and Almanzo first lived and the modernized Rock House that Rose later had built on the property). Both have been converted into museums housing such artifacts as Pa’s famous fiddle, family photos, and original, handwritten manuscripts of the Little House books.

Rocky Ridge Farm is open from March 1 to November 15, Monday through Saturday. Adult admission costs $14.

2. Diamond, Missouri: George Washington Carver National Monument

The tiny hamlet of Diamond, Missouri, is about 90 minutes west of Branson. This is the place where a young boy named George Washington Carver was born into slavery just before the end of the Civil War. Carver, of course, grew up to become one of our country’s most recognized scientists and inventors, famous for his work that explored numerous ways to use the peanut.

Today, the land where he grew up is a national monument, the first unit of the National Park Service to be dedicated to an African American. At the monument, you can see the cabin where Carver was born and walk the grounds where he first expressed a keen interest in plants and agriculture. The visitor center features exhibits that cover Carver’s prolific and legendary career.

The monument is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is free to enter.

Bonnie and Clyde's hideout in Joplin.

3. Joplin, Missouri: Bonnie And Clyde’s Hideout

In the early 1930s, during the height of the Great Depression, the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow made national headlines as they traveled the United States, robbing banks and murdering those who got in their way. After their deaths during a shootout in 1934, their fame and notoriety only grew. Several movies have been made about the pair and their bloody rampage.

To see some of their history firsthand, travel an hour and 45 minutes west of Branson to Joplin, Missouri. In 1933, Bonnie and Clyde spent several weeks hiding out in this southwestern Missouri town, eventually having to shoot their way out to escape the authorities. The garage apartment where they holed up still stands. It’s privately owned but available to rent for hard-core history fans. The home is located at 215 West 34th Street.

4. Commerce, Oklahoma: Mickey Mantle’s Childhood Home

Any die-hard baseball fan knows all about Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. The legendary slugger spent his entire career with the New York Yankees and was one of the greatest switch hitters ever to play in the big leagues. But before he headed to the Big Apple, Mantle had humble beginnings.

To see where he first learned to play ball, take Interstate 44 due west of Branson about 2 hours to Commerce, Oklahoma. The small white home where Mantle grew up still stands at 319 South Quincy Street and is marked with a tiny plaque. But the rusted red barn just adjacent to the home is of even greater interest: It served as a backstop for Mantle’s batting practice with his father, who worked at the local zinc mine.

If you’re making the trip to Commerce, you’ll really need to keep an eye out for the Mantle home. While the town is proud of its link to baseball history, and there are plans for a Mickey Mantle museum, ground has yet to be broken on such a space.

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

5. Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Historic Resort Hub

When Branson’s Lake Taneycomo becomes old hat, head to the historic town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to take in its famed curative waters. Built up around Basin Spring, Eureka Springs boomed as a resort hub during the 1870s and 1880s, as word spread about the magical waters that flowed through the town. While Eureka Springs has since seen its tourist traffic ebb and flow, Ozarka Water still operates here, and many buildings from the town’s Victorian past have been renovated and restored.

Today, visitors can stroll the quaint historic district, have a great meal, browse the boutiques and galleries, and of course, relax with a spa treatment or bath in the town’s world-famous mineral waters. There’s even a renowned summer opera festival here, Opera in the Ozarks, in case you want to combine culture with your stopover.

Eureka Springs is only about 50 miles from Branson, making it the perfect day trip.

6. Springfield, Missouri: Bass Pro And Battlefields

Springfield, Missouri’s third-largest city, is only 45 minutes from Branson. Home to Missouri State University and the Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield also has some unique sights to check out.

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to head to the world’s biggest Bass Pro Shop. Springfield is the national headquarters of the outdoor store chain, and it shows in this over-the-top store. There are half a million square feet under its roof, filled with every sort of outdoor gear and wear you can think of. There is also an enormous aquarium, the National Archery Hall of Fame, and a full-service restaurant featuring fish and game.

History buffs should consider a trip to nearby Wilson’s Creek, the site of the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River. The National Park Service operates a National Battlefield here, and visitors can take a self-guided car tour of the site. Admission is free and open to all.

Inside the Precious Moments Chapel.

7. Carthage, Missouri: Precious Moments Chapel

The small village of Carthage, Missouri, is about 90 minutes from Branson, and it’s home to one of the quirkiest spots we know of: the Precious Moments Chapel. Precious Moments ceramic figurines were wildly popular in the 1980s and 1990s, and their creator, Sam Butcher, became a millionaire. He decided he wanted to build a place where he could combine his artistic work with his religious faith. As the story goes, Butcher was driving home from a trade show when he felt compelled to stop in Carthage. He decided this was the place to create his true masterpiece, bought some land, and got to work.

The Precious Moments Chapel’s interior, inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, features handpainted murals and stained glass windows depicting Butcher’s characters in Biblical scenes. It’s kitschy and sweet; fans of the collectible line will absolutely adore this spot.

The chapel, visitor center, gift shop, and surrounding gardens are open year-round; admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Planning a trip to Branson? Here are seven key things to know about the town’s shows -- and 10 things to do in town besides seeing shows.