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
  • 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.
  • Skeets McDonald

    (1915-1968) More >

    Skeets McDonald

    (1915-1968)
    Born on a farm in Greenway (near Rector), McDonald was a noted singer-songwriter. Best-known for his self-penned chart-topper "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," McDonald was a honky-tonk singer and songwriter whose work helped serve to bridge the gap between country and rock and roll. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Roberta Martin

    (1907–1969) More >

    Roberta Martin

    (1907–1969)
    An American gospel composer, singer, pianist, arranger and choral organizer, who helped launch the careers of many other gospel artists through her group, The Roberta Martin Singers. Martin was born in Helena but moved with her family to Chicago when she was 10. Contact with Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music led her to form the Martin Frye Quartet in 1933. In 1936 the named changed to the Roberta Martin Singers, which set the standard for gospel choir and mixed group performers. Their extremely successful recording career featured such hits as "Only A Look," and "Grace." She composed about 70 songs, arranged and published 280 gospel songs. Her compositions include "He Knows Just How Much We Can Bear," and "God Is Still on the Throne”, "Let It Be," and "Just Jesus and Me." Martin earned six gold records. Her great contribution to the history of gospel music was her development of a distinctive gospel-piano style and the special sound of her group. With her singers, men and women were integrated for the first time into the gospel chorus. A 1998 U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp was released in her honor. It was one of four honoring gospel women. The other women honored were Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, also an Arkansas native.
  • Johnnie Taylor

    (1934-2000) More >

    Johnnie Taylor

    (1934-2000)
    Taylor, known as the "Philosopher of Soul," was a popular gospel and R&B singer with a recording career over four decades long. Born in Crawfordsville, he was raised by his grandmother in West Memphis who encouraged his church attendance which then spurred his love of singing. He sung with several gospel groups before starting his solo career, including The Soul Stirrers, where Taylor and a young Sam Cooke became friends. Cooke later signed him on his own SAR label, and it was there he began singing secular music. Hits include "A Whole Lotta Woman," "Who's Making Love," and "I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)." His single, "Disco Lady," was the first single to rank platinum. Taylor was awarded a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.
  • 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).