I used to go out on this trail quite a bit when I lived in Branson many years ago. I also used to hang out here with friends when I was in high school. We'd sit on the rocks down by the water until like 4 a.m. (Such rebels, when the sign clearly stated no admittance after 10 p.m.! Oooh, ahh.) It's probably been at least seven years since I've been, though! The trail and accompanying Dewey Short Visitor Center were seriously screwed up by the flooding a few years ago, and they've recently rebuilt the whole thing. I was curious to see the brand new visitor center and check out the updates to the trail.
There's a PDF map of the trail here! I was so happy to find a map online that I could check out before setting out. (This map does seem to be a bit out of date, since some of the marked rest areas weren't there, and I know they're doing maintenance in certain areas.) My plan for this first time out was to just do the first section of the trail from the Visitor Center to the Showboat and then turn around, since that would be a 1.2 mile round trip. I ended up doing quite a bit more than that, though. I'm so used to rougher trails that a mile on a mostly flat, paved trail just flies by!
As usual, the photos in this post are a mix of pictures taken with my regular camera and my phone, so quality isn't awesome. (I also tend to snap pictures without pausing my walk when I'm on a trail, so pretty much none of these are great.)
I started out by visiting the newly built visitor center. The building itself is gorgeous and modern, and has some great overlooks towards the lake and dam, but the exhibits inside are really lacking compared to the old one. Hopefully it will improve over time?
Stole this pic from their website because I neglected to take any photos of the actual building. This is the back of the building, which faces the dam.
The landscape has changed a little over the years, but this is about where I used to sit with friends like I mentioned above. (You can tell I'm the 5th child in my family by the fact that my parents never said anything about me being out till like 4 a.m. at age 16.)
On the lower level of the visitor center, there's a giant map of the lake built into the floor. I'm approximately standing on my house here. (I think.)
The actual start of the trail is about 2/10 mile from the visitor center, near the Army Corps of Engineers office building. There's a restroom with water fountains there, as well as this handy sign.
At first, I was a little put off by how open and flat and paved the trail was. I'm not a fan of paved trails in general, I prefer dirt and rocks and maybe a little mud. It's just more fun. (Although I'll take paved over sand or wood chips any day!) I missed the more closed-in trail that used to be here when I visited several years ago; I just like that feeling of being surrounded by the trees in a cozy way. After a while, though, I got used to it and was even able to appreciate the change of pace. I still prefer trails where I'm climbing over things and such, but this was fun for a change. (It was also WAY more busy than I'm used to! On most of the trails I visit, I see around one other person/couple/group per hour. Here I was seeing people every 5-10 minutes!)
This tree looooooves you! I'm surprised nobody has carved their initials in there yet.
As I mentioned above, my original plan was to do the .6 miles to the Showboat Branson Belle parking lot, and then turn around and head back. What I didn't anticipate was that doing that section of trail only took me about 10 minutes! I've gotten so used to the rougher trails where doing a mile takes me an entire hour that it didn't even occur to me how much quicker I'd cover ground on a trail like this! It seemed silly to drive all the way out here for a 20 minute walk, so I decided to just continue on until I felt like turning back.
What followed was my least favorite part of the trail: crossing the Showboat parking lot. There are painted lines that lead you to where the trail goes back into the woods on the other side, but there's just something icky-feeling about being in a crowded, busy parking area (at least when I was there- people were arriving for the afternoon cruise. It was also a little awkward to be passing by people all dressed up for a dinner show when I was sweaty in workout clothes.) when you've been in the quiet, beautiful woods. Luckily it's only about two tenths of a mile across, and then you're back among the trees.
Eventually, I came to this spot where the trail was sent on a detour through yet another parking lot. I decided that this seemed like a decent spot to turn around, since I had no idea how far I'd traveled and I didn't want to end up walking all the way to the marina and then being too tired to enjoy the walk back! This ended up being a great turn around spot, since it made my walk just a little over an hour.
Since only one of the benches on the map actually existed (and no other rest areas), I was looking for a spot to sit and sip some water for a minute on the walk back. I ended up detouring off the trail a little to follow this boat slip road to the lake. I found a decent sized rock and sat to soak up the sun for a few minutes.
I also took this little video clip with my phone because I'm so in love with the sound of waves.
I do plan to go back and do the other half of this trail sometime soon. Like I said, the whole flat, paved, lots of people thing isn't quite my favorite, but it was surprisingly fun as a change of pace and the scenery is gorgeous. It's not the kind of trail that I can hit when I'm in the mood to sit somewhere quiet to write, but there is something kind of satisfying at being able to look at a map and see how much ground I covered, since I'm so used to trails that call for moving much slower.
According to Google Maps, I ended up doing about 2.6 miles all together. I've mostly been doing trails that are around a mile lately, but those have been much more rugged. I have to say, doing two and a half miles of mostly flat, paved trail felt like almost nothing in comparison! I love that next time I go out, I can just park exactly where I stopped this time and do the other half that continues on down to the marina. Love trails with multiple entry points! (That sounds dirty.) My only wish was that there was some kind of shuttle that could take you between the marina and the visitor center, so that people could do the full length of the trail without necessarily having to turn around and do the whole thing in reverse to get back to their car!
So, here's the awesome thing about doing a trail that's near something else. When I finished the trail, I was able to cross the parking lot back to the visitor center and plop down on one of these surprisingly comfy benches behind the building. They're below the overlook deck so it's nice and shady, but the really awesome thing is that the building has wifi, so I got to whip out my phone to catch up on email and Twitter while I sipped some water and cooled off. This was SO much nicer than going straight from the trail to a hot car!
Since there are basically no photos of me in this post, enjoy this amazingly high quality self portrait taken in one of the visitor center windows. You can't tell, but I'm wearing that dragonfly shirt that I made last year, my Ellie capris from February, my beloved Ahnu trail shoes (They don't seem to sell this exact style anymore, but they're very similar to these. Highly recommended!), and some spectacular pink faux Wayfarers that I got at Target for a buck.
Overall, a very solid use of a Sunday afternoon.