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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
  • 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 Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. 2013 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Willie Cobbs

    (b. 1932) More >

    Willie Cobbs

    (b. 1932)
    Born in the small Monroe County of Smale; he began performing at the clubs of the Delta while still a teenager, including Brinkley's legendary White Swan. He wrote and recorded "You Don't Love me" in 1960, now a blues standard that has been covered by The Allman Brothers, Luther Allison, Stephen Stills, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King and Booker T and the MGs. Member of the Blues Hall of Fame.


  • John H. Johnson

    (1918-2005) More >

    John H. Johnson

    (1918-2005)
    Arkansas City native and publisher who founded Negro Digest in 1942, followed by Ebony and Jet magazines. These became the most powerful African-American owned media company in the United States. He also created Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Johnson was the first African-American to be named to the Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans. He was awarded the "Medal of Freedom" by President Clinton on September 9, 1996.
  • 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.



  • Carroll Cloar

    (1913–1993) More >

    Carroll Cloar

    (1913–1993)
    Carroll Cloar was born on January 18, 1913, on a cotton farm approximately 10 miles north of Earle. He studied various genres of art with most of his paintings being casein tempera or acrylic—on large canvases, depicting images drawn from photographs and his own memories. His style has been described as both primitive and progressively modern. Cloar earned national acclaim as a realist and surrealist artist with the majority of his works based on his memories of growing up in the Arkansas Delta. His paintings are characterized by flattened figures in landscapes formed of decorative patterning. One of his paintings was chosen to be among six paintings by American artists commemorating President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. On April 10, 1993, Cloar died after a long battle with cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered across his old home place in Earle. Places where Cloar’s works can be viewed include the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Crittenden County Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Whitney Museum.