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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • George Hamilton

    (b. 1939) More >

    George Hamilton

    (b. 1939)
    Blytheville-raised actor has appeared in numerous films and television shows, plus penned his memoir, “Don’t Mind if I Do,” which describes growing up in Blytheville. Though born in Memphis, Hamilton feels closer to Blytheville, where he spent much of his childhood. "It's where I will be buried, and it's where I come from," he said in an interview. "I buried my mother there, my brother there, my grandfather, my grandmother -- it's the very earth where I'm going to be." Hamilton is well-known for his tan, which he describes as “cinnamon brown,” and his self-deprecating wit. Some of his motion picture appearances include portraying Hank Williams in the low-budget biopic "Your "Love at First Bite" (1979), and “Zorro, the Gay Blade” (1981). He has also appeared in commercials and television’s “Dancing with the Stars.” He produced “My One and Only,” staring Renee Zellweger, in 2009.
  • 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.