Day in the Ozarks with kids: Dogwood Canyon

A day in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a great way to get an introduction to the beauty of the Ozarks with kids. Privately owned and operated as a non-profit by Johnny Morris, the owner and founder of Bass Pro Shops, my first impression of Dogwood Canyon was that 1. it’s beautiful enough to be a state park or otherwise preserved by the US government, and 2. that Morris is doing a pretty good job of preserving it himself.

dogwood-canyon

The park is managed by the Johnny Morris Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the canyon’s natural plant and wildlife environment. Because private ownership comes with an entry fee, I was prepared to dislike it based on the principle that lands such as this should remain accessible to all. However, the cost to enjoy the area is minimal (or can be, anyway…see pricing information below), and the benefit of private ownership is evident in the pristine nature of the park.

The paved and unpaved paths, signage, and structures of Dogwood Canyon are distinctly ‘Disney-like’ in my opinion. What I mean by this: everything is polished, pretty, and accessible. For an ‘enjoy right out of the box’ nature destination, it works very well. The 10,000 acres can be used for hiking, biking, and fishing, with optional tram and even Segway tours adding a bit of ‘theme park’ ambiance.

bikes-at-dogwood

There are several ways for families to enjoy a day here, and yes, I do recommend reserving a whole day to the experience. The more affordable way to tour the park is by hiking or bringing your own bikes. There are 6.5 miles of paved paths for biking (or hiking), plus additional dirt trails for hiking. The canyon winds slowly upward on a very gentle slope along Dogwood Creek, and every quarter mile or so, there’s another beautiful vista, waterfall, or pool to stop and admire. Truly, it’s very lovely. There are picnic areas, fishing pools, and quaint stone bridges…even a wedding chapel. The mowed lawns on either side of the main paved path, as well as benches and sign posts give the canyon more of a ’manicured’ feel than I typically like in a nature setting, but once I acclimated, I was able to enjoy the area on its own terms.

dogwood-canyon

The tram tour, which families will certainly see winding its way through the park, takes visitors the length of the 6.5 paved trail by guide, then continues past the point cyclists and hikers must turn around and ascends out of the canyon to an upper area of the park. Here, Morris’ herds of American buffalo (bison), elk, white-tailed deer, and long-horn cattle roam. This wildlife park aspect of Dogwood Canyon is worth the price of the tram tour if seeing these animals up close is important to you. I really enjoyed it, even though I’ve been through wildlife ‘safari’ parks in the past. The animals come right up to the sides of the tram (a feeding lends to their cooperation) and our guide was very personable and knowledgable. The whole tram tour takes a few hours, so plan accordingly…after we were done, I wished I had saved some time to walk along the unpaved trails, too.

dogwood-creek

With a whole day, a family could certainly hike or bike most of the day, stopping whenever and wherever to picnic or play, then take the tram tour before departure. This map of the hiking and biking trails can help in the planning process.

dogwood-tram

New at Dogwood Canyon:

Dogwood has undergone an extensive expansion, which is now complete. In addition to all of the above, families will find new activities in the park, such as horseback riding and organized wilderness walks, as well as the following attractions:

dogwood canyon horseback riding

  • Working Mill – featuring live demonstrations with head miller Blake Adams
  • Canyon Grill Restaurant – a rustic-elegant destination restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking Indian Creek and stunning rock formations with a 120 foot waterfall
  • Education Center – educates guests about the importance of protecting, conserving and preserving the great outdoors through offerings including Kids Adventure Clubs, interactive displays, and live wildlife demonstrations
  • Treehouse – this majestic two-story treehouse was built for the “Treehouse Masters” TV show on Animal Planet and offers a hands-on approach to conservation and wildlife education for kids and kids-at-heart.  
  • Little Indian Stables – the beautiful new barn features 24 stalls that allow riders to walk through and visit horses as part of their experience.
  • General Store & Outfitters ­– one-stop shop for everything you need before heading out into the park, including segways, bikes, fly fishing gear and more. Also offering a variety of logo’d apparel and goods such as ground cornmeal from the Dogwood Mill.

For the best overview of the park each month, to help you plan your day, check their Adventure Guides. Here’s an example for May 2017.

Distance from the interstate:

Dogwood Canyon is located about 45 minutes from Branson, spanning Missouri and Arkansas.

Admission:

Admission to Dogwood Canyon Nature Park provides access to the Mill, Canyon Grill Restaurant, Nature & Conservation Center and Treehouse for $10 per adult and $5 per child. If you live nearby, a season pass may be a better deal.

dogwood canyon treehouse

Families can get hiking and biking admission (if bringing own bikes) for $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids. Admission with bike rentals included is $22 for adults and $15.95 for kids. From my day in the park, I believe this is a good value.

The wildlife tram tour is $25 for adults, and about $12 for kids. As mentioned, Segway tours are also offered, as well as fly fishing classes and horseback rides. Fishing is permitted in the park for another fee, based on whether you need to rent gear and plan to catch-and-release or keep your catch.

Check the admission page for current pricing.

Dining:

There is dining at the entrance of the park, in a smaller building that was a one-time military post. Families can get sandwiches, wraps, and other casual fare here, but I recommend bringing a nice picnic.

Directions:

Dogwood Canyon is located outside Branson at 2038 West State Hwy 86 in Lampe, Missouri.

As we disclose whenever applicable, Pit Stops for Kid experienced Dogwood Canyon as a guest of the nature park, for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Yes, I’ve heard of this place! It looks ideal for families, especially those unaccustomed to roughing it. It’s interesting to see how parks (including the National Parks) are going that route to entice all types to get back to nature.

  2. Oh my. I just want to hang out with that cow (steer?) He is AMAZING!

  3. shirley emitt says:

    My granddaughter’s class will be going there next week, it’ their class trip for the year.

Leave a Comment

*

Shares