Branson, Missouri’s Silver Dollar City – Theme Park Unlike Any Other

Branson, Missouri’s Silver Dollar City – part living history museum, part artisan community, part food festival, part natural wonder – it’s so much more than a theme park.  OK, OK, in an industry where world-records are constantly shattered and parks continually try to outdo each other, Silver Dollar City has carved out its own unique theme park niche.  Don’t believe me?  When was the last time you went spelunking in a theme park?  Hmmmm… that’s what I thought.  Or, have you ever sat around a kitchen like on Food Network, and participated in a culinary class?  I don’t think so.  Continue reading for more of how Silver Dollar City is a theme park unlike any other.

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Silver Dollar City Theme Park

OK, let’s get the basics out of the way.  Silver Dollar City has over 40 rides and attractions throughout the theme park including four roller coasters, and a 5th coaster, Time Traveler, scheduled to open in spring 2018.  The park set precedent with Outlaw Run, the first wooden roller coaster EVER to go upside down.  Wildfire (pictured below) is a smooth, steel coaster with a 150 foot drop, multiple loops, and reaches speeds over 65 mph.  Plus, all the rides feature spectacular views of the surrounding Ozark Mountains.  However, any good theme park is going to have rides & attractions, right? That’s not what truly sets Silver Dollar City apart – it’s what Silver Dollar City offers all around the traditional amusement park rides.

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Silver Dollar City Homestead Ridge

The park not only has a mid-to late-1800’s theme, Silver Dollar City has an authentic historic village smack dab in the center of the park.  McHaffie’s Homestead was a log cabin originally constructed in 1843, and consists of a farm, kitchen, and entertainment to illustrate what it was like to live in the 1800’s Ozarks.

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In this oldest section of the park, visitors will also find an 1800’s one room schoolhouse as well as a wilderness church, that offers hymn sing-alongs.  These are authentic, historic buildings moved from other parts of the Ozarks and painstakingly pieced back together in their current location at Homestead Ridge.

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Each building is staffed by re-enactors, artisans, and interpreters to bring the experience to life.

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101 Year old fiddle maker Violet Hensley from Arkansas has been a fixture at Silver Dollar City for 51 years. She’s incredibly sharp, vibrant, and full of wit & life. I loved getting to spend just a little time with Violet and listen to her stories.

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Silver Dollar City’s harvest-time demonstrations include a mule-powered sorghum press.  [For those unfamiliar (like me), sorghum is a grain used to produce a super-sweet syrup similar to molasses.]

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Silver Dollar City Craftsman

The theme park hosts nearly 100 resident craftsmen including glass-blowers, potters, candy-makers, blacksmiths, furniture makers, and more.  Each craftsmen demonstrates the traditional art of creating their hand-made wares, that are for sale throughout the shops of the park.  Below, Senior Craftsman Sam Aldrige blows glass at 2200 degrees.

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Jeff Walker (below) has created clay pottery for over 40 years starting at age 14.  He sometimes throws 100 clay mugs in a day, and his Silver Dollar City shop quickly fills with his items.

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Each fall, from mid-September through October, Silver Dollar City’s 100 resident craftsmen are joined by over 125 visiting craftsmen for the National Crafts & Cowboy Festival.  The visiting craftsmen demonstrate leather working, copper color art, stone art, fiddle making, basket weaving, gourd painting and jewelry making.

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All of these craftsmen are certainly attractions as much as any show at Silver Dollar City, and the artisans are more than willing to explain their technique, answer questions, and interact with guests.  Of course, like any good theme park, guests “exit through the gift shop” of these attractions, and I willingly plunked down money to bring home these high-quality souvenirs.

Silver Dollar City Food

How many times have you visited your favorite theme park and “had to have” some sort of signature food item?  I can probably think of 3-4 things I crave at every park I visit.  Silver Dollar City is particularly known for their vanilla-iced cinnamon rolls and loaves, fried chicken, skillet dishes, and ice cream topped warm apple dumplings.

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Recognizing that food was such a large part of the Silver Dollar City experience, they opened the Midwest Living Culinary and Craft School where guests can learn (and taste) how their favorite Silver Dollar City dishes are created.  Classes cost $15/person (food included), run for 60 minutes, and are presented in a distinctly non-1880’s setting that looks ready for prime-time television.

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During our pie & mocha class, we sipped steaming mocha drinks while watching Debbie Dance Uhrig (pictured below) teach us how to prepare a sweet potato pecan pie.

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Master Craftsman of Culinary Arts Debbie Dance Uhrig has been at Silver Dollar City since the Midwest Living Culinary and Craft School opened in 2008.  She comes with a 25 year history as a school teacher, cooking instructor, and cookbook author.  As Debbie prepared the dish, she shared cooking and savings tips along the way and created an atmosphere like sitting around your home kitchen.  For me, sitting down with Debbie was like hanging out with my Mom.  Debbie swapped stories about family, how she ate cakes in her Southern Baptist Church, cooked, and laughed.

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Oh, and you can’t have a cooking class without sampling the product, right?  This slice of sweet potato pecan pie that Debbie made up right before our class was still warm from the oven, and oh so good.

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Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City

Finally, there’s a cave in the theme park. Seriously. And I’m not talking about a kitchsy spook-house type of cave. This is a natural geologic formation that was first discovered by the Osage tribe, perhaps as far back as the 1500’s.  Geologists began describing the cave in the 1860’s, adventurers started exploring in the 1880’s, and tours commenced in 1894 in what would become one of the first attractions in Branson.  So, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say… Firstly, there’s a cave in the theme park.

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Marvel Cave, a registered National Natural Landmark, is a wet limestone cave, with formations that are still alive and growing. From 1894 through the 1950’s, Marvel Cave was the attraction in Branson, and the rides and shows at Silver Dollar City were added in order to entertain the families waiting to enter.  During the tour, guests descend 300 feet below the surface into the 20-story Cathedral Room, the largest cave entrance room in the United States, and see formations such as the 55-foot tall Liberty Bell and the 70-foot flowstone Blondie’s Throne, plus features including the winding Serpentine Passage, and the Waterfall Room 500 feet below the surface with an underground waterfall 50 feet high.

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Tours depart every 30 minutes most days and are included with theme park admission. Special Lantern Light Tours (for an additional charge) are offered once each day to allow guests to step back in time and explore Marvel Cave the way original guests experienced the wonder.

Silver Dollar City is jammed-packed with unique experiences that appeal to theme park fans and even those that don’t particularly like theme parks.  That’s what makes Silver Dollar City a perfect spot for families.  With so many parks saying they have “something for everyone,” Silver Dollar City is a theme park that fulfills the promise.

DISCLOSURE: Adventures by Daddy was hosted by Branson, Missouri in order to experience Silver Dollar City and the attractions in the area. However, all opinions expressed are those of the author. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.