Step back into the 1880s with a visit to Silver Dollar City, a theme park in the Ozarks
Walking through the beautiful park, built amid giant trees towering overhead, it wasn't difficult to feel transported to another time.
I had no idea what to expect when I packed my bag for a day at Silver Dollar City (SDC), a theme park located in the Ozark Mountain Region of Branson, Mo. Before walking through the park gates, I knew only a few things: the park is set in the 1880s, it's known for its food — like barbecue and cinnamon bread — and a friend who had previously visited described the overall experience as a "fever dream" ... in the best possible way.
The biggest question I had going into my day at SDC was: Why the 1800s? How could a time when so much was yet to be discovered inspire an entire theme park filled with attractions, food, shows and entertainment? I made it my mission to learn more.
Walking through the beautiful park, built amid giant trees towering overhead, it wasn't difficult to feel transported to another time. Artisans were set up throughout the park, blowing glass, blacksmithing and making candy. My friends and I watched a group of women lead a demonstration on making peanut brittle, then stood observing a blacksmith make iron roses, which we each purchased to take home as a souvenir.
We feasted on giant cinnamon rolls, funnel cakes and fresh kettle chips topped with cheese. But the best meal of the day was at Rivertown Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant nestled near SDC's Mystic River Falls water ride. Sitting outside in the beautiful weather, enjoying our lunch of pulled pork, smoked turkey, creamy macaroni and cheese and coleslaw, I couldn't help but think our group had slowed down to a more 19th century pace and were truly enjoying our day in the park.
SDC is also acclaimed for its attractions. I still laugh today thinking about how loud my best friend screamed as we rode the Time Traveler — a spinning coaster that cost $26 million to build and holds the record for the most inversions (three) on a ride of its kind. Roller coasters like Thunderation and Outlaw Run bounced us through the Ozarks while we screamed in delight. On Fire in the Hole, an indoor coaster that tells the story of the Ozarks' famed gang of Baldknobbers (a group of vigilantes who lit fire to the real-life town of Marmaros, Mo.) we joined a group of more than 25 million guests who've ridden the coaster and yelled "Fire in the hole!" throughout. (The park's 2023 season will be the last for Fire in the Hole, so it's worth making a trip before the iconic attraction disappears.)
As a writer who has been visiting theme parks for years, I experienced yet another first at SDC: Marvel Cave. The natural cave, which takes guests 300 feet below the surface, was how SDC got its start. In 1894, an entrepreneur and his family opened the cave as a tourist attraction — the rest of the theme park was a slow build around the cave, designed to keep those waiting in line for their cave excursion busy.
Entering a true natural wonder in the midst of coasters, corn dogs and street performers was exactly what my friend described ... a fever dream in the best possible way.
Nick Guevel, the vice president of strategic marketing for SDC, tells Yahoo Life that the main focus of the park is simple: getting families together for a fun day, the old-fashioned way.
"That is what we get up every day to do, and we do it through food, we do it through crafts, we do it through rides," says Guevel, adding that SDC has seen record-setting numbers of families visit in recent years. "The theme park visit is about hitting the gate and having a plan — when we're going to ride the ride, what time we're going to do lunch, when we'll see a show — but we're kind of the anti-plan park, that's our goal. When you hit the gate, we want the day to slow down just a little bit. We want you as a family to embrace your sense of imagination and adventure, and to not be so focused on getting somewhere."
Guevel describes the park as "an 1880s mining town," explaining that the park's goal is to protect things from the era like artisan crafts, exciting stories of adventure and the history of the time period.
"We still believe that unique and authentic is real and it's special," he says, "so that's part of our job is to protect those things."
I truly enjoyed my day experiencing the "unique and authentic" things SDC seeks to protect. And, in addition to screaming my head off on some of the most thrilling rides I've experienced and eating really good theme park food, I actually learned a lot about the history of Missouri and the Ozark Mountain Region.
And, I journeyed to the bottom of a cave, climbed back out and lived to brag about my sense of accomplishment — something I can honestly say I have never done at any other theme park.
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