Arkansas Great River Road

The face of the river, in time, became a wonderful book ... which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. - Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Along The Natural State’s eastern border flows a mighty river that has transformed the land and the people within its reach. It is the majestic Mississippi River, which starts as a stream in Minnesota, winding throughout America’s heartland to Louisiana, where it relinquishes its powerful waters into the Gulf of Mexico.

Arkansas’s 362-mile section of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway winds its way through the state’s eastern Delta region along the mighty torrent. The waterway created a scenic and natural border that has beckoned people to its banks for centuries. Visitors can gaze upon acres of cotton, soybeans or rice as they travel through some of the most fertile land in the country on a Mississippi River road trip. Along the trek, numerous historical and cultural sites preserve the history of Arkansas and its people and welcome visitors to learn more about this remarkable region. In The Natural State, Old Man River carved its way under its own terms…man tried to control it and failed miserably.

The Great River Road was established in 1938 when governors from the 10 states bordering the waterway decided to develop a network of rural roads and new highways to create a transcontinental parkway along the Mississippi River, crisscrossing the mighty river, totaling 2,340 miles. The Mississippi River Parkway Commission was formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to preserve, promote, and enhance the scenic, historic and recreational resources of the Mississippi River; to foster economic growth in the corridor; and to develop the national, scenic and historic Great River Road.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Great River Road and the Mississippi River Parkway Commission. Arkansas Tourism plans to celebrate the historic thoroughfare with a variety of Southern festivals and activities. Want to help us commemorate the byway’s “birthday?” Embark on a grand Mississippi River road trip by car or motorcycle, or just join us in Arkansas for fun Southern festivals and other events found below.

The Delta region of the United States is rich in historical, archaeological, geological, natural, and cultural assets. The Delta region also has tremendous human capital in the people who live there and hold strong hopes for the future. The Delta's human, natural, and cultural resources have the potential to contribute significantly to the region's future.
Memorandum for the Secretary of Agriculture, regarding the Arkansas Delta Circuit Rider Pilot Project, December 10, 1999
Map of the Great River Road
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Famous Arkansans
  • Sonny Boy Williamson

    (1908-1965) More >

    Sonny Boy Williamson

    (1908-1965)
    Born on the Sara Jones Plantation near Glendora, Miss., the date and year of his birth a matter of some uncertainty. Beginning in the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Junior Lockwood. He was also associated with Robert Johnson during this period. Williamson lived in Twist, Ark., for a time with Howlin' Wolf's sister Mary Burnett and taught Wolf to play harmonica. In 1941 he was hired to play the “King Biscuit Time” show on radio station KFFA in Helena with Lockwood. Williamson had begun developing a following in Chicago beginning in 1953, when he appeared there as a member of Elmore James' band. During his years with Chess Records he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim, recording about 70 songs for Chess subsidiary Checker Records from 1955 to 1964. In the 1960s he toured Europe during the height of the British blues craze, recording with The Yardbirds and The Animals. Some of his better known songs include "Don't Start Me to Talkin,'" "Fattenin' Frogs for Snakes," "Keep It to Yourself," "Your Funeral and My Trial," "Bye Bye Bird," "Nine Below Zero" and "Help Me.” His song "Eyesight to the Blind" was performed by The Who as a key song in their rock opera “Tommy” (the only song in that opus not written by a band member) and it was later covered on the Aerosmith album “Honkin' on Bobo.” His "One Way Out” became popularized by The Allman Brothers Band in the early 1970s. He returned to Helena, and died there a few hours prior to a scheduled radio performance on May 25, 1965. He is buried in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Carroll Cloar

    (1913–1993) More >

    Carroll Cloar

    (1913–1993)
    Carroll Cloar was born on January 18, 1913, on a cotton farm approximately 10 miles north of Earle. He studied various genres of art with most of his paintings being casein tempera or acrylic—on large canvases, depicting images drawn from photographs and his own memories. His style has been described as both primitive and progressively modern. Cloar earned national acclaim as a realist and surrealist artist with the majority of his works based on his memories of growing up in the Arkansas Delta. His paintings are characterized by flattened figures in landscapes formed of decorative patterning. One of his paintings was chosen to be among six paintings by American artists commemorating President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. On April 10, 1993, Cloar died after a long battle with cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered across his old home place in Earle. Places where Cloar’s works can be viewed include the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Crittenden County Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Whitney Museum.
  • Johnny Cash

    (1932-2003) More >

    Johnny Cash

    (1932-2003)
    This "Man in Black" was born to a Kingsland, Arkansas sharecropper on February 26, 1932. His first big hit was "Folsom Prison Blues" which rose to the Top Five in country singles in 1956. "I Walk the Line" became Cash's first No. 1 hit. In 1957, he made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, and by 1958, he'd published 50 songs, sold more than six million records and moved to Columbia label. Some of his other well-known recordings include "A Boy Named Sue," "Orange Blossom Special," "Ring of Fire" and "Jackson," which he recorded with his wife June Carter Cash. He starred in "The Johnny Cash Show" (ABC, 1969-71) and "Johnny Cash and Friends" (CBS, 1976). He also appeared in the movie "Gunfight" (1970), the television miniseries "North and South" (1985) and made guest appearances on various television shows. His 11 Grammys include a Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1998 Grammy for Country Album of the Year for "Unchained." Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame (1996).
  • Charles L. Thompson

    (1868-1959) More >

    Charles L. Thompson

    (1868-1959)
    One of the state’s more prolific and successful architects. His firm designed more than 2,000 buildings, hundreds of which are still standing today. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “Some of the best examples of his work in varied styles are the W. E. Hemingway House in Little Rock, constructed in 1895 in the Queen Anne style; the Temple B’nai Israel in Little Rock built in 1897 in the Romanesque style; the J. D. Back House built in 1905 in Little Rock, which is one of the many examples of the Colonial Revival style.” Thompson is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.
  • Louis Jordan

    (1908-1975) More >

    Louis Jordan

    (1908-1975)
    Born at Brinkley, he studied music with his father and made his first professional appearance at Hot Springs Green Gables Club at age 15. During the 1930s Jordan worked with well-known bands from Philadelphia to New York and toured with Ella Fitzgerald. He was known as "The King of the Jukebox." He penned such favorites as "Choo Choo Boogie," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," and "Saturday Night Fish Fry." Jordan also appeared in several movies that featured his music and toured Europe and Asia during the 1960s. He died in Los Angeles and is buried in St. Louis. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.