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
  • 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.
  • Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

    (b. 1936) More >

    Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

    (b. 1936)
    Born in Helena, Smith is one of the many Blues legends who were influenced by Helena's KFFA King Biscuit radio show. Considered one of the world's greatest blues drummers, the multi-award winning musician is also a harmonica player. He joined the Muddy Waters Band in 1961 and toured with them until 1964. He rejoined Waters in 1968 and stayed with him until 1980. Smith is a member of The Legendary Blues Band, which appeared in The Blues Brothers movie and has also toured with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.
  • Ed Bruce

    (b. 1939) More >

    Ed Bruce

    (b. 1939)
    Born William Edwin Bruce Jr. in Keiser, Arkansas on December 29, 1939, like so many other artists, this country music singer and song writer got his start as a rockabilly act for Memphis' famed Sun Records. He is best known for penning the song, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Chester Arthur "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett

    (1910-1975) More >

    Chester Arthur "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett

    (1910-1975)
    A native of Mississippi, Howlin' Wolf became an Arkansan in 1948 when he moved to West Memphis. There he formed a band that included harmonica players James Cotton and Junior Parker and guitarists Pat Hare, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, and Willie Johnson. He also earned a spot on radio station KWEM, playing blues and endorsing farm gear. According to his biography, Burnett has probably had more impact worldwide than the 19th-century American president after whom he was named. With a musical influence that extends from the rockabilly singers of the 1950s and the classic rock stars of the 1960s to the grunge groups of the 1990s, plus a legion of imitators to rival Elvis he was one of the greatest and most influential blues singers ever. Wolf was inducted into the Blues Foundations Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • Kemmons Wilson

    (1913-2003) More >

    Kemmons Wilson

    (1913-2003)
    This Osceola native founded and opened the first Holiday Inn in 1952 in Memphis. In 1953 he formed Holiday Inns of America and served as chairman and chief executive officer until 1979. After retiring, he developed the world's largest time-share establishment, Orange Lake Country Club, which is located near Disney World. He is credited with revolutionizing the lodging industry by bringing affordable and comfortable lodging to millions.