Lakeside Wilderness Hiking Trail
One of the amazing things about Branson is that you can be near theaters, fine dining and attractions, and just a few yards away you'll find unspoiled wilderness and plenty of outdoors activities.
Nov. 7 was an overcast and crisp fall day, so we decided it would be a good opportunity to take a lunchtime day-hike and get some fresh air. Wanting something nearby and easy to get to, we chose the Lakeside Wilderness Hiking Trail, which begins just a short distance from The Strip. The trail offers some amazing views of Lake Taneycomo and the College of the Ozarks campus.
The Lakeside Wilderness Area is inside Branson's city limits and is maintained by the city, and there's plenty of parking at the trailhead, which is off Fall Creek Road behind Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater.
The first half-mile of the trail is wide and suitable for hikers of any age or ability. There are several benches for taking breaks, and pets on leashes are allowed on this section of the trail. After walking a few moments on this well-worn trail, all we could hear was the rustling of the wind through the trees and it was very easy to forget we were only a few hundred yards from The Strip.
After hiking about a half-mile along the top of the ridge, we came to some wooden steps and the entrance to the Cliffwalk Stairway, the most strenuous portion of the hike. The stairway consists of 315 stone steps that take you down the hillside, where the trail continues and parallels Lake Taneycomo. The steps were built in 1937 and 1938 and have survived remarkably well for seven decades.
The clearing where the stairs start their descent offered some of the best photo opportunities, with a great view of the lake below and of the College of the Ozarks Campus on the horizon. This portion of Lake Taneycomo is relatively undeveloped and is very scenic.
No pets, except for service animals, are permitted on this portion of the trail, and proper hiking shoes really are a requirement. Young children should be accompanied by an adult on this portion of the trail, since there are many places to slip and lose your footing.
The stairs stop about 50 feet above the shoreline, where the trail continues along the base of some nice bluffs. In several places, the trail was wet or muddy, or required some care to navigate. We saw some limited views of the lake through the trees, but the really interesting views on this part of the trail were the caves and wet-weather waterfalls. The trail winds along the lake for about a mile before a sign warns you of a dead-end about a mile ahead. We didn't make it that far, though ... we hiked along the bluff-line for about another half-mile before deciding to turn back.
Here's where the trail gets strenuous and isn't for the faint of heart: climbing back up those 315 stairs. It's a great workout, to be sure, and we took advantage of a rock bench about halfway up the stairway to rest. Back at the top of the ridge, we were hit with a very welcome breeze and quickly covered the half-mile stretch back to the parking lot.
Overall, our hike took about an hour and was a great way to spend a lunch break.