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
  • Douglas A. Blackmon

    (b. 1964) More >

    Douglas A. Blackmon

    (b. 1964)
    Born in Stuttgart, Arkansas, Blackmon’s family moved to Mississippi, then back to Monticello, Arkansas, where he graduated from high school. He earned his college degree at Hendrix College in Conway. After college, he was first an intern then reporter for the Arkansas Democrat. In 1987, he became managing editor and part-owner of the Daily Record in Little Rock. Blackmon then moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1989 before joining the Atlanta office of the Wall Street Journal in October 1995. He was awarded the 93rd Annual Pulitzer Price in General Non-fiction for his book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday) in April 2009. It is described as “a precise and eloquent work that examines a deliberate system of racial suppression and that rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity.”
  • Albert King

    (1923-1992) More >

    Albert King

    (1923-1992)
    Born Albert Nelson on April 25, in Indianola, Mississippi, King is nicknamed "The Velvet Bulldozer." One of 13 children, King grew up picking cotton on plantations in Forrest City where the family moved in 1931, and performed near Osceola with a group called the Groove Boys. His first introduction to music was singing in church and listening to his father, Will Nelson, play guitar. Another early influence came from the family's records where he spent hours trying to copy the sounds of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson on his homemade cigar box guitars and one string diddley-bows. King obtained his first real guitar in 1942. He was fascinated by the playing of Blues musicians who frequented nearby West Memphis, Arkansas, most notably the works of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James. He is considered one of the most influential blues guitarists ever and was the first blues guitarist to perform with a symphony (1969). In 1983, he was inducted into both the W.C. Handy International Blues Awards Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. Inducted into the National Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2013.
  • Mike Utley

    (b. 1947) More >

    Mike Utley

    (b. 1947)
    Musician Mike Utley was born in Blytheville and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a zoology degree. Early in his career he worked with the house band for Atlantic Records, backing performers such as Aretha Franklin, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Allman Brothers. In February 1973, after Jimmy Buffett had moved to Key West from Nashville, he heard Utley playing keyboards on one of Jerry Jeff Walker’s albums. He liked what he heard and asked Utley to play on his first major label album, "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean." Utley continued to work with other performers in the mid-1970s while continuing to work with Buffett until the latter’s 1977 breakout "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” He then joined the Coral Reefer Band full-time, making him the longest active member of the band. He now serves as its musical director. Utley has recorded with an impressive list of artists over his career, including Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Hawkins, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Jimmy Cliff, Sam The Sham, Jackson Browne, Booker T. Jones, and John Kay of Steppenwolf. He's also produced many albums with Buffett. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • John Weston

    (1927-2005) More >

    John Weston

    (1927-2005)
    A Lee County native, Weston was born on December 12, 1927. The singer/songwriter combined fine songwriting with a deep Delta Blues style. John began performing in 1970 and by 1977 had built a local audience in Marianna where he was living. His lyrics, which grew from his personal experience, reflect the humor and irony of daily life. He became a popular festival performer in the Delta and all over the world. He performed solo for many years although he occasionally played with a band. John won the Lucille Award (named after blues singer B.B. King’s infamous guitar) at the Handy Awards in Memphis. In 1995 he began performing as a duo with Little Rock slide guitarist Mark Simpson. His CD "Got To Deal With The Blues" contains several cuts featuring the two. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Buddy Jewell

    (b. 1961) More >

    Buddy Jewell

    (b. 1961)
    Raised mainly in Osceola, his father was a friend of country music legend Johnny Cash who lived at Dyess not far from Osceola. In 1991, he won a talent contest sponsored by super group Alabama and opened for the group alongside Mark Chesnutt and Ricky Van Shelton. The following year, he competed on TV's Star Search, winning male vocalist on several episodes. His success on the show encouraged him to try his luck in Nashville. Jewell was the big winner on Nashville Star cable TV series in 2002, securing a record deal with Columbia, where Clint Black produced his first album. Member Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.