At 252 feet tall, Table Rock Dam is one of the largest dams in Missouri, and it’s certainly a defining landmark in the Branson/Lakes region. However, many visitors to the Branson area aren’t aware that they can take a guided tour inside the dam.
The Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation has partnered with Ride The Ducks to provide tours inside Table Rock Dam again. The tours were commonplace until a decade ago, but after Sept. 11, 2001, the tours came to an end as additional security measures were put in place to protect the dam. Luckily, the tours resumed in 2010, managed by the foundation.
The tours leave from the Dewey Short Visitors Center on the south end of the dam and take a restored San Francisco Cable Car across the dam and down to the dam’s powerplant.
You must be a U.S. citizen older than six to go on the tour, and security inside the dam is very tight. Security cameras are everywhere, and visitors can’t carry any personal items on the tour, including purses, cameras, cell phones, water bottles or fanny packs (the reason I don’t have any pics from inside the dam to share). Be sure to store your items in your locked vehicle before departing, otherwise you’ll have to use a secure locker outside the dam.
After arriving at the base of the dam, visitors leave the trolley and enter the lobby of the powerhouse. The tour includes the major areas of the dam, including a look at the turbines and massive 18-foot-diameter penstock pipes that feed them with water from Table Rock Lake (be sure to put your hand on the smaller penstock pipe that feeds the station generator — the water is a chilly 45 degrees). You’ll also get to leave the powerplant and take a tour inside the cave-like passageways deep inside the concrete dam. You’ll even get to stand inside the deep passageway that was designated as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. And you’ll also get a great view of the spillway from inside the security fence.
Table Rock Dam was built primarily for flood control, and secondarily to generate hydroelectric power. Since its completion in 1958, the dam has mitigated flooding on Lake Taneycomo, which until that time had suffered from wildly unpredictable water levels (of course, as we’ve seen this Spring, Taneycomo can still flood, but the dam controls the amount of water entering the lake).
The powerplant can produce more than 200,000 kilowatts of electricty when all four turbines are engaged. The dam is more than a mile long (6,423 feet counting the concrete dam and earthen embankments) and forms Table Rock Lake, one of the Midwest’s most popular recreational and fishing lakes.
The tour is a very unique education experience (most dams in the United States don’t offer tours), and is perfect for a family outing, a church group or a scout group.
- Tours depart daily at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. from the Dewey Short Visitors Center (arrive at least 20-30 minutes early)
- Price: $14.50 for adults (12+), $8.00 for children (6-11), children younger than 6 not permitted.
- What they don’t tell you: Be sure to use the restroom before leaving the Dewey Short Visitors Center; no bathroom facilities are available at the dam.
- More info: www.tablerockdamtours.com or call 417-266-7621