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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
  • Willie Cobbs

    (b. 1932) More >

    Willie Cobbs

    (b. 1932)
    Born in the small Monroe County of Smale; he began performing at the clubs of the Delta while still a teenager, including Brinkley's legendary White Swan. He wrote and recorded "You Don't Love me" in 1960, now a blues standard that has been covered by The Allman Brothers, Luther Allison, Stephen Stills, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King and Booker T and the MGs. Member of the Blues Hall of Fame.


  • Robert McFerrin Sr.

    (1921-2006) More >

    Robert McFerrin Sr.

    (1921-2006)
    Born in Marianna on March 19, 1921, McFerrin was the first African-American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Los Angeles Times critic Albert Goldberg described his voice as “"a baritone of beautiful quality, even in all registers, and with a top that partakes of something of a tenor's ringing brilliance." Father of Grammy Award-winning singer/musician Bobby McFerrin, he made his New York City Opera debut as Popaloi in the premier of William Grant Still’s Haitian opera, Troubled Island. Still is also an Arkansas native.
  • 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.
  • Robert Lockwood Jr.

    (1915-2006) More >

    Robert Lockwood Jr.

    (1915-2006)
    Born March 27, 1915 in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. He first learned music on the family pump organ, then was taught the guitar at age 11 by Robert Johnson, the mysterious delta bluesman. By age 17, Lockwood was performing professionally with the likes of Johnson, Johnny Shines and Rice Miller, who became an institution himself as Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1941, Lockwood and Williamson joined forces in Helena, Arkansas to host the now legendary King Biscuit Hour on KFFA radio. During his lifetime, he received numerous accolades including the very first W.C. Handy Award. He is also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame and the Delta Blues Hall of Fame. The album, Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas, recorded by Lockwood, Henry James Townsend, Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, and David Honeyboy Edwards, received the 2004 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. He continued to perform on a regular basis at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival (formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival) in Helena until his death.
  • Wayne Jackson

    (b. 1941) More >

    Wayne Jackson

    (b. 1941)
    Grew up in West Memphis before his life took him across the Mississippi River to Memphis, where he became a legendary backup trumpeter in such groups as the Mar-Keys. Jackson would go on to perform with a "who's who" of artists from around the world on over 300 gold and platinum records. He has played on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Sting, Tanya Tucker, Elvis Presley, U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Otis Redding, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, The Doobie Brothers, Marty Robbins, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, and Robert Cray and was a founder of the legendary Memphis backing band, The Memphis Horns. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.