The Ozarks are so full of natural beauty and wonder. It’s one of the reasons Harold Bell Wright became enamored with the area and visitors first began flocking here in the early 1900s. While all the shows, attractions, restaurants and retailers are wonderful, it would be a shame to visit the area and miss out on its untouched, beautiful landscape that has many stories of its own to tell.
Located just a half hour west of Branson in Lampe, Missouri, this breathtaking nature park is an awe-inspiring display of the natural wonders of the Ozark Mountains. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the nature park and take the Wildlife Tram Tour and I’d love to tell you all about it. But first — a little bit of history.
This 10,000-acre park is owned by Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops. He acquired the land in 1990 and has since pursued the goal of maintaining its natural environment while making it more accessible for guests to enjoy. It’s managed by the Dogwood Canyon Foundation, a nonprofit organization that protects and preserves its natural plant and wildlife. All the money you spend here goes right back into the park.
This area of southwest Missouri was largely populated by the Osage Indians at one point. They lived in sophisticated villages, hunted wild buffalo and other game and raised crops of their own. When Morris purchased the land, he discovered more than 10 caves spanning the 10,000 acres of land and uncovered human remains within several of them. They were wrapped and buried inside the caves, a traditional burial practice of the Osage Indians. Researchers determined the remains to be hundreds of years old so Morris sent them off to a museum to be preserved. Guests who walk, bike or take a tour through the park will still have the opportunity to see the caves where these remains were found.
I only spent one afternoon at Dogwood Canyon, but I wish I could have spent an entire day. The Wildlife Tram Tour was about two hours long and although the weather was chilly, it wasn’t unbearable. The sun was shining and the tour guide gave us all blankets so it was easy to stay warm.
The tour began at the main entrance and gift shop area and from there, we headed out into the rugged wilderness of the park. The tram took us past several waterfalls, across bridges, through steep canyon walls and over low ground where water from the streams washed across the roadway. There were several children in our group and they kept oohing and aahing each time we went over a stream or bridge. They were completely enamored!
Our guide took us to several different stops and let us get off the tram, walk around and take photos. One of those stops was Hope Chapel, a popular spot in the park for weddings.
The chapel is the perfect destination for a rustic, outdoor wedding and the backside is gorgeous, featuring huge windows and a lounge area where guests can enjoy food and drink against the backdrop of a breathtaking waterfall.
With a view like this, a couple really doesn’t need to do any decorating whatsoever. What do you think?
Eventually, our guide took us over the Arkansas border and into a wide open prairie land where we had an up close encounter with some of the wildlife in the area. Our guide dumped buckets of feed all over the ground, sending an open invitation to the animals to come get a snack. They must know he’s the guy who always has the food because as soon as they spotted his truck they all came running without hesitation.
In any case, it was an incredible experience to watch the elk, deer, bison and cattle run toward the tram. These animals were huge up close but it was awesome to be close enough to reach out and touch them. One of the elk even trotted alongside me in the tram for several minutes! I think he was waiting for me to give him a snack.
Best day of work, ever.
Everything about Dogwood Canyon was absolutely amazing. The wildlife, the scenery, the informative tour … I don’t think it could have gotten any better. This is really just something you have to see for yourself.
Yes, I know the winter season is well on its way. But that doesn’t mean the fun for the outdoor enthusiast has to end. Dogwood Canyon’s tram tours continue through December 31 so you can book yours today! To make your reservation, visit www.dogwoodcanyon.org or call 417-335-2777.