If you are planning a visit to the Branson, Missouri or Eureka Springs, Arkansas areas, you may want to consider adding a stop at Top of the Rock, in Ridgedale, Missouri. We were made aware of it by one of our Kansas City readers, and loved the pictures they shared from their visit. Although we wanted this article for our Branson series, we actually visited on our way home from Eureka Springs. (Better weather for outdoor activities.)
A Johnny Morris Production
Top of the Rock is a combination resort, golf course, museum, and nature trail. It was designed on the top of a ridge, with a view of Table Rock Lake. The idea was to create a destination where guests could stay, and find plenty to do for a couple of days. Using the natural landscape, they augmented it with some seamless additions, and pumped water up the ridge to create the many waterfalls that dot the landscape.
Our first stop was at the entrance center, where we purchased our $32.00 per person dual pass for the nature trail and museum. Please note that the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail is enjoyed by golf cart, so you will need a person 18 or older to drive. With passes in hand, we made our way to the carts, and soon we were on our way. The carts are available for two or four passengers, and include roof shades. There are pull-offs along the 2 1/2 mile trek, and they frown on you stopping in a way that blocks traffic.
Along the way, we passed over two Amish covered bridges. These offer fabulous views of the valley below, as well as the waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Since they are only one lane wide, they obviously don’t have pull-offs for photo opps.
As we were making our way around the nature trail, we came upon a cave entrance. This is clearly man-made, but offers an opportunity that was unexpected. Inside the cave is a drive-up bar, which serves a small selection of cold beverages for youngsters and adults. I’m used to having beverage carts bring drinks out on the golf course, but this was a little backwards. Still, we decided to sample one of their cold drinks, as we made our way back out into the sunlight. BTW – there is a waterfall inside the cave, and you will probably get a little mist from it.
Picture Perfect Landscape
As we continued through the landscape, we found many places that were excellent backdrops for selfies. The crews have done a great job at creating a path that showcases the natural beauty of the Ozarks. Since the pull-offs are numerous, every group can proceed at its own pace, but even us slowpokes finally made it back to the Welcome Center.
Once we had turned in our golf cart, we boarded a bus to take us over to the main complex. Here is where golfers come to try their skill at a par 3 course designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson. The course offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside, as well as Table Rock Lake. Nearby, a chapel sits on the edge of the ridge offering beautiful lake views. It is home to many weddings, followed by receptions in one of the private rooms available for rent.
Grabbing A Bite
There are a few dining options available at Top of the Rock, and some have a hefty price tag. We hadn’t made reservations, so we chose to grab something at Arnie’s Barn, which is named for Arnold Palmer. It offers plenty of seating options, and even has an outdoor veranda with tables. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer magnificent views of the golf course, which is the direction I faced. Inside, the heavy wooden beams, and large stone fireplace offer a lodge feel to the place. We were surprised that it wasn’t louder, considering how open the room feels with the high vaulted ceiling. The story goes that the timbers for this lodge came from a 150 year old barn on Arnold Palmer’s property.
The menu is primarily focused on Mexican cuisine, which was perfect for our tastes that day. We each ordered the Taco Salads ($13.00 each), and munched on some chips and salsa while we waited. The meal was good, and we enjoyed the views, as well as some prime people-watching, while we dined.
A Timeline Of The Land
Once we had satisfied our hunger, we were ready to continue our exploration. The dual pass we had purchased included admission to the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum. Upon entering, we quickly discovered that this museum runs in chronological order from prehistoric times. Visitors snake their way through the galleries, as they make their way toward modern times. First up was information on many of the creatures that roamed the lands centuries before man.
As we worked our way toward the present, we found a large collection of Native American artifacts. Much of the collection was unearthed by archaeologists hired to scour the lands that would be submerged when Table Rock Lake was formed. We never realized that this massive effort had been undertaken, and the extensive assortment proves the worth of the activity. They also display many pieces of art in various forms. Some of our favorites were the amazing bead-work that can be found in the clothing and everyday items used by various tribes.
Passing Through Time
We progressed through the museum, and found ourselves entering the pioneer days. Here were the pieces used by travelers to traverse the prairie, and ultimately bring them into the Ozark Mountain region. Many of the pieces in this area are items we have seen similar examples of in other history museums throughout the Midwest. The displays still captured our attention, and are well designed for all ages.
Toward the end, we found ourselves entering the Civil War period. The Missouri-Kansas-Arkansas-Oklahoma areas were ripe with battles and skirmishes. Many of the decisive struggles occurred in these area, so it is a fitting end to the museum’s exhibits. While battle pieces are prevalent in the displays, there is also an abundance of personal stories mixed in, which help bring the non-combatant view to the exhibits. Overall, we were impressed with the museum, and its wide array of exhibits. While the cost for the day ended up around $100 for two (including lunch), the place did occupy us for about five hours. Not a bad return on our money, in our opinion. Have you ever visited Top of the Rock? If so, be sure to give us your thoughts on the value of your visit? Thanks!