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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Guest Blogs
Famous Arkansans
  • Douglas A. Blackmon

    (b. 1964) More >

    Douglas A. Blackmon

    (b. 1964)
    Born in Stuttgart, Arkansas, Blackmon’s family moved to Mississippi, then back to Monticello, Arkansas, where he graduated from high school. He earned his college degree at Hendrix College in Conway. After college, he was first an intern then reporter for the Arkansas Democrat. In 1987, he became managing editor and part-owner of the Daily Record in Little Rock. Blackmon then moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1989 before joining the Atlanta office of the Wall Street Journal in October 1995. He was awarded the 93rd Annual Pulitzer Price in General Non-fiction for his book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday) in April 2009. It is described as “a precise and eloquent work that examines a deliberate system of racial suppression and that rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity.”
  • Robert Lockwood Jr.

    (1915-2006) More >

    Robert Lockwood Jr.

    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.
  • Sonny Boy Williamson

    (1908-1965) More >

    Sonny Boy Williamson

    Born on the Sara Jones Plantation near Glendora, Miss., the date and year of his birth a matter of some uncertainty. Beginning in the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Junior Lockwood. He was also associated with Robert Johnson during this period. Williamson lived in Twist, Ark., for a time with Howlin' Wolf's sister Mary Burnett and taught Wolf to play harmonica. In 1941 he was hired to play the “King Biscuit Time” show on radio station KFFA in Helena with Lockwood. Williamson had begun developing a following in Chicago beginning in 1953, when he appeared there as a member of Elmore James' band. During his years with Chess Records he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim, recording about 70 songs for Chess subsidiary Checker Records from 1955 to 1964. In the 1960s he toured Europe during the height of the British blues craze, recording with The Yardbirds and The Animals. Some of his better known songs include "Don't Start Me to Talkin,'" "Fattenin' Frogs for Snakes," "Keep It to Yourself," "Your Funeral and My Trial," "Bye Bye Bird," "Nine Below Zero" and "Help Me.” His song "Eyesight to the Blind" was performed by The Who as a key song in their rock opera “Tommy” (the only song in that opus not written by a band member) and it was later covered on the Aerosmith album “Honkin' on Bobo.” His "One Way Out” became popularized by The Allman Brothers Band in the early 1970s. He returned to Helena, and died there a few hours prior to a scheduled radio performance on May 25, 1965. He is buried in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Cyrus A. Sutherland

    (1920-2008) More >

    Cyrus A. Sutherland

    Professor emeritus of the College of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, which is ranked in the Top 10 schools of architecture in the country. Other early faculty members, along with Sutherland, included such outstanding designers as John Williams, E. Fay Jones, Herbert Fowler, Ernest Jacks and Keith McPheeters. Sutherland introduced historic preservation as a part of the curriculum in 1976 and he also pioneered the study of vernacular architecture in the state. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Society of Architectural Historians.
  • 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.