By Klaire Bruce
Most people will admit to wanting to be an ‘explorer’ at one point in their life. It meant anything from looking around the basement with a flashlight to adventuring in obscure, far off places around the world. If you still find yourself with the age old explorer bug, the Ozarks are a great place to start. Most exploring tends to bring you in contact with at least a little bit of nature – and the unique Ozarks nature (everything from tigers – in enclosures, of course! – to butterflies to fish and everything in between) is sure to keep your exploration hands-on, interesting and fun.
The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure
Located on West 76 just past the 76 and Shepherd of the Hills Expressway intersection, The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure, is a one stop location for all things butterflies – and a few other critters as well! The butterfly room, the main attraction at the Butterfly Palace, is an 80 degree, lush, green tropical oasis filled with hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful butterflies. As you explore the butterfly room and its fluttering occupants, you’ll see butterfly varieties such as the black and white Paper Kite, the stunning Emperor Swallowtail and the shimmering Blue Morpho. Some butterflies will hover near your face as you explore – and they may even land on you! You’ll also see some tiny tropical birds – like the Honeycreeper – flying about and sipping nectar from the orchids and other tropical flowers.
If you are a photography buff, there are great photo opportunities to be had in the butterfly room. And for little explorers, binoculars, magnifying glasses and pith helmets are provided. The Butterfly Palace also features a science room full of frogs, lizards, giant cockroaches and piranhas, an informational movie viewing theater, the Emerald Mirror Maze, the Banyan Tree Bungee Adventure, and a gift shop. So get ready for an all-day winged adventure at the Branson Butterfly Palace!
National Tiger Sanctuary
If you like cats – big cats, small cats, striped cats, black cats – then the National Tiger Sanctuary is the place for you. Ten minutes north of Branson, in the Chestnut Ridge/Saddlebrooke area, the National Tiger Sanctuary is your chance to see some truly exotic Ozarks nature. NTS is a non-profit organization with a mission to educate about the environmental conditions that affect the Earth’s ecosystems, and to provide forever homes for their big cats in a setting that mimics the animal’s natural environment as much as possible. Here you’ll meet felines such as Madison, a beautiful white tigress, Banshee, a playful Mountain Lion, and Merlin, an African Lion who enjoys warm summer rain showers.
Want to explore this big cat sanctuary? Take a guided tour! Tours are offered at 10am, 1pm and 3pm Wednesday through Sunday. There are four different tour options – the Awareness Tour, the Feeding Tour, the You Feed Tour (where visitors can actually feed the cats themselves) and the Behind the Scenes Tour. Visit www.NationalTigerSanctuary.org for pricing and reservation information. Birthday parties, weddings and field trips are also offered here.
Mountain Springs Trout Park
If you’d like to explore some Ozarks nature with a fishing pole, come visit Mountain Springs Trout Park. Located in Highlandville off of Highway O, thirty minutes south of Branson, Mountain Springs Trout Park is a beautiful place to explore. Tucked back against the side of a ridge in a small cove next to a white country church, the trout park is as peaceful as it is enjoyable. Visitors can fish without a license and without a limit. You pay for what you catch. Poles, bait and tackle are provided, or folks can supply their own. Staff will clean and pack your catch for you, so your trout will be ready to cook or freeze upon your return home. Mountain Springs encourages you to bring a picnic lunch and stay and fish as long as you’d like. The trout park also offers a pavilion rental for birthdays, weddings and special events.
If you’re the kind of person who’d rather be out on the green than surrounded by greenery, the nearby town of Branson, Missouri, is world-famous for its golf courses (and entertainment venues). According to the Branson Vacation Guide, “there’s more to do here in the summer than a family could possibly do in one trip. Golfing on one of one of Branson’s many golf courses, shopping at hundreds of Branson stores, family & kids friendly shows at a number of theaters, and Branson theme parks” are just a few places to check out – so be adventurous and find some more!
Klaire Bruce is a college student, spending her time enjoying and writing about the Branson, Missouri area for Thousand Hills Golf Resort.