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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
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe

    (1915-1973) More >

    Sister Rosetta Tharpe

    (1915-1973)
    Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant around 1915, Rosetta’s early training was in religious music. Her mother, Kate Bell “Mother Bell” Nubin was a traveling missionary and "gospel shouter". Rosetta developed a unique vocal and guitar style that caught the attention of Decca Records who signed her in 1938. She was an overnight sensation and is considered by many to be gospel music’s first superstar. Also a crossover performer, she influenced numerous rock musicians such as Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash. She appeared with such legendary performers as Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Louis Jordan and took the stage at the Cotton Club and Café Society. Her biography, by George Washington University scholar Gayle Wald, is entitled “Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The documentary entitled "The Godmother of Rock & Roll" was shown on PBS as part of the American Masters series. 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.
  • Conway Twitty

    (1933-1993) More >

    Conway Twitty

    (1933-1993)
    Known as the "High Priest of Country Music," this Country Music Hall of Famer was born and raised in Helena. He was born as Harold Jenkins and later chose his stage name from Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. He also considered "Bald Knob" as a stage name. Twitty's No. 1 hits include: "Hello, Darling," "It's Only Make Believe" and "Tight Fitting Jeans." Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.


  • 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.
  • 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.