Before arriving in Missouri, I hadn’t heard of Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. We stumbled across it in a quick search to find great places to hike nearby. Upon seeing gorgeous photos of nature, waterfalls, and trails, we knew we needed to visit before we left town. Dogwood Canyon with kids is the perfect, most beautiful place to explore. If you are looking for a kid-friendly outdoor activity in Missouri, this is the place. Wondering what to do at Dogwood Canyon? Read on if you plan to visit Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Here I provide all you need to know to visit Dogwood Canyon with kids. (Tip: It makes a great day trip from visiting Branson, MO.)
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History of Dogwood Canyon
Johnny Morris, the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, has a love of nature. He has many projects he has completed to help people enjoy nature, all while helping to conserve it. One of those projects is Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. The park is an area full of waterfalls, creeks, caves, trees, and animals that have been untouched. Dogwood Canyon has been created simply to allow the public to visit this beautiful part of Missouri. In its creation, accessible trails were added to allow both wheelchairs, strollers, and park vehicle tours to explore the area.
Dogwood Canyon was home to settlers in the 1800s, where you can still see cabins from then. Later, it was a place for mining lead and zinc.
The 1900’s brought park and recreation areas for RVs and fishing for a few years, followed by years of vacancy. In the 1990’s, Johnny Morris purchased over 2,000 acres of the land, which is now the main attraction area of Dogwood Canyon. Exploring the area brought discoveries, such as the oldest human burial remains in the state of Missouri.
After over 30 years of ownership, Johnny has helped to preserve and protect plants, land, and various animal species, who are thriving within the park today.
Bringing a little one? Check out the top-rated carriers for easy hiking!
What to Know About Dogwood Canyon Nature Park Before You Go
Thousands of visitors enjoy Dogwood Canyon every year. It has been improved in a way that makes it very easy for kids or guests with other specific needs to visit.
It is open from 9am to 5pm. Arrive early enough to allow a few hours to explore.
Upon arriving at Dogwood Canyon, you park your car at a close lot (if you’re early!) or at a parking lot around the way. There is good signage to lead you to the overflow lot.
Walk toward the big mill and you’ll find the ticket office. Keep in mind, this is not a state park or a national park. There is a solid entrance fee to be admitted. The prices are different depending on what day you go, but stay somewhere around $20 for an adult, single day ticket.
Tip: purchase tickets online ahead of time. You can select which day you go. This helps avoid arriving and finding out the tickets are sold out. We were lucky to have been early enough to walk in, but next time I’ll be purchasing tickets in advance.
Is Dogwood Canyon Kid-Friendly?
Yes! The trails that have been created through the park are paved and mostly flat. It is very easy to navigate through the park with kids.
The trail through Dogwood Canyon is about 3.5 miles one-way. If you are walking (which you have to do with the basic admission ticket), you can just walk as far as you’d like and then turn around. If the kids are younger, you can easily take a stroller through the park, perhaps allowing you to increase how far you can go.
There are beautiful scenes, fish, waterfalls, and stunning nature that will keep the kids happy and entertained. The park is easily appreciated by families and people of all ages.
Trout swim all over in the waters of Dogwood Canyon
Facilities at Dogwood Canyon Nature Center
Mill House at Dogwood Canyon
The first thing you’ll come to is the big, running mill house. Inside are bathrooms, a little visitors area filled with taxidermies of native animals, and a restaurant. The mill house is a big, beautiful building. If you purchased tickets in advanced, you could go around and skip the mill house, but I wouldn’t. The grandeur is enough to visit, but there is also a nature center upstairs the kids will enjoy.
If you walk all the way through the mill house and across the covered crossway, you’ll find a large gift shop.
When you visit Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, you have to stop at the tree house! After you exit the mill house and just a short walk away, you’ll come to an enormous treehouse. This treehouse was built by Treehouse Masters from Animal planet, and it in impressive. Kids (or adults okay with small spaces) can start at the bottom and climb up a narrow way to the main level of the treehouse. you could also just take some exterior stairs. Intricate details bring this treehouse alive. The stairs inside are beautifully carved, with natural stair rails. It has been decorated to replicate a little log cabin-feel inside. With stairs, ladders, climbing, and different rooms, the kids will love exploring the treehouse at Dogwood Canyon.
You may smell it before you see it. About a mile into your walk, you’ll stop at the Chuckwagon restaurant for those who have built an appetite. The grill area is a great stop for lunch, and serves bbq chicken/pork sandwiches, hotdogs, salads, etc. You can sit under a large, covered area to find some respite from the heat. There is also a restroom right across the way, making this an ideal stop with kids.
How to See Dogwood Canyon Nature Center
There are a few different ways to explore Dogwood Canyon with kids.
1- The most affordable way is to walk. Bring a stroller if you need to, and just leisurely stroll through the shade of the trees and along the creek. Walking makes it easy to stop where you’d like to take pictures or pull over and enjoy the majestic scenery for a bit. Plenty of people choose this option. And again, you can turn around at any point if it’s too long for the kids.
2- Bike. You can rent a bicycle at Dogwood Canyon (reserve in advance! They sell out.) For around $15, this can be an easier way to cover more ground. Make sure your child is old enough to both ride a bicycle and to navigate through crowds of people, if needed. Renting a bicycle is great because you can still get off an enjoy any place within the park.
3- Dogwood Canyon Tram Tour. Dogwood Canyon offers tram tours where all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Hop into the vehicle and be taken to the ends of the park. A local told us that the only way to get to the bison and elk pastures are to take the tram tour, otherwise you have to turn around before you reach it. The Wildlife Tour (tram) is great because you can see the WHOLE park and the kids won’t wear out. The downside is that you don’t get off and explore every point of interest. The trams do stop or slow, but we didn’t see any disembarking.
How Much is the Tram Tour at Dogwood Canyon?
Tram tours start at $25 per adult (yes, in addition to the park entrance), and prices can increase depending on the day you visit. You should absolutely buy tickets in advanced if your heart is set on a tram tour, as they sell out quickly. Every tram tour we saw go by was completely full.
4- Segway Tours. We didn’t see any of these, but it is an option if you’d like to take a load off! Kids have to be at least 12 to participate, and the tours start at $40.
5- Horseback. Starting at $40, you can discover Dogwood Canyon by horse on this guided tour. Obviously this isn’t an option with small children, but it is an option for the older ones.
Self Guided Tours of Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
We chose to walk through the park, so here is how to enjoy the park on foot.
When you arrive at the park, make sure to grab a map. Not only will this give you distances between points-of-interest, but the back of the map actually has little paragraphs on each point-of-interest so you can enjoy a self-guided tour.
The map will lead you from the treehouse, to waterfalls, to caves, the trailside restaurant, and even explain a little science in the Karst topography and why one side of the creek appears dry and all of a sudden reappears. The explanations are short and sweet, but really add a lot to the experience of discovering Dogwood Canyon with kids.
Make sure to pack some snacks and water!
There are 24 points-of-interest along the 3.5 mile trail. Some you have to be looking for, and some are right in front of you. Each are marked on the park map so you can keep track of how far you’ve gone. This is a really fun way to keep the kids excited about the long walk.
To purchase tickets, find activities, or for more info, visit the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park website.
Check out this 2-minute video of Dogwood Canyon
Is Dogwood Canyon Worth the Money?
When you think of outdoors activities, often is comes cheap or free. We also wondered if Dogwood Canyon would be worth the money and almost missed out. The answer is a resounding YES, it is totally worth it.
There were so many times after our visit that we were so relieved that we still decided to go. We still talk about how incredible beautiful Dogwood Canyon is and love flipping through pictures here.
So yes, if you can make it work, Dogwood Canyon is worth the money to visit.
Visiting Dogwood Canyon Nature Park with the Family
Dogwood Canyon was one of our favorite stops on our recent trip. It was a stunning area, filled with intense greenery and so. many. waterfalls. We felt like we had stepped into a fantasy movie in another world because we were so blown away with how much beauty there was everywhere we looked.
I highly recommend Dogwood Canyon with the kids next time you are in Missouri and looking for a little nature.
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