A Chicago couple struck gold while visiting the Ozarks. Little did they know, that their love of nature would bring them to discover a cave in the Ozarks in 1946. What started off as a summer cave tour business actually developed into a theme park attracting over two million people each year and winning the theme park industry’s top award of excellence worldwide!
It’s called Silver Dollar City. It’s a 100-acre, 1880s theme park located near Branson, Missouri, that has 12 stages for live entertainment, 30 rides and attractions, 12 restaurants, 60 shops and 100 resident craftsmen.
Everyone at the park is very welcoming. We were smothered by generous hospitality the moment we parked our car (free parking, which is always a nice perk) We fell in love with Silver Dollar City at first sight. Learning more about the history of the park made it all the more enjoyable.
The park started with a hole in the ground. The hole, first called Marble Cave because the limestone walls were thought to be marble, was one of the first attractions in what would become Branson. Cave tours continued into the early 1900s and minister/writer Harold Bell Wright was one of it’s visitors.
In 1907, after his famous novel The Shepherd of the Hills was published, nationwide interest in the Ozarks began, drawing visitors who wanted to see the self-reliant and stoic hill people, and the incredible cave Wright had described. It wasn’t until 1946, that Chicagoans Hugo and Mary Herschend vacationed in the Ozarks and discovered the cave now called Marvel Cave because of its awesome proportions. They loved the cave, which was run by the Lynch sisters who decided to retire and offered the Herschends a 99-year lease on Marvel Cave.
The cave is still open for tours today; in fact it’s the first attraction you see upon entering Silver Dollar City. The first year Silver Dollar City drew more than `25,000 people, which was four times more visitors than the number that toured Marvel Cave. “We discovered we were in the theme park business,” says Pete Harshened.
In 1969, Silver Dollar City drew national attention when producer Paul Henning brought the cast and crew of the popular Beverly Hillbillies television show to the park to film five episodes.
The park is a extremely family friendly offering rides, shows and games for kids and adults of all ages. They have been able to maintain the charm of the Ozarks while adding high-quality shows and rides. We met the town marshal, who also helped point us in the right direction to experience this year’s new wooden roller coaster the Outlaw Run.
The Outlaw Run is the world’s first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster, the only wood coaster to twist upside down three times, with the world’s steepest drop on a wood coaster at 81 degrees, it’s the second fastest wood coaster in the world with speeds of 68 miles per hour! “We’ve had visitors from throughout the U.S. and beyond coming to Branson because of Outlaw Run,” explains Silver Dollar City General Manager Brad Thomas. “We know that vacationers look for unique experiences, and Outlaw Run is unique on a global scale.” While not riding the exciting rides, we were taking advantage of meeting the local artisans and the girls had their hands dipped in wax, which was a lot of fun, creating a one of a kind souvenir.
Dora the Explorer and Diego also made an appearance where our younger two girls loved seeing them and getting a photo. Families are welcome to bring food into the park for snacks or lunch, which we did, but still saved room to enjoy the delicious southern style home cooked meals, and traditional fair food (ahem, my personal favorite, funnel cake!).
Silver Dollar City offers some pretty amazing water rides that really help beat the heat and the kids loved soaking others and being soaked in water gun fights along a stretch where a water ride provides guests with stationary water guns to aim at the those along the route. We didn’t last long enough to take advantage of the Night Water, which was happening while we were visiting, it’s where the rides are open until 10PM and some participants wear glow in the dark shirts and take advantage of surfing the wave pool at dusk, floating Aloha River under the stars, or racing down the speed slides in the dark. The rides range from mild to wild so it’s sure to please everyone.
While we spent nearly 10 hours at the park combined into two days, we still didn’t get to see it all leaving more for us on our next visit, and believe me this is one place my girls are already asking when we’ll be visiting again.