Twenty-three great places to visit in the Arkansas Delta in 2023

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Bear Creek Lake, Mississippi River State Park, Marianna.
Bear Creek Lake, Mississippi River State Park, Marianna.

Now is a great time to start making travel plans for the new year. Here are 23 attractions, historic sites and communities that you should definitely put on your to-do list for 2023 ...

Attractions and historic sites

Arkansas Post has played an important part in the history of what is now Arkansas since the late 17th century. Arkansas Post was established in 1686 by French explorer Henri de Tonti. The site was the first European colony in the Mississippi River Valley and the location of the only Revolutionary War skirmish to take place in what is now Arkansas. Due to the settlement’s proximity to the Arkansas River, Arkansas Post was a thriving river town by the early 1800s and was selected as the capital of the Arkansas Territory. By 1821, Arkansas Post had served as the local governmental, military and trade headquarters for the French, the Spanish, and the United States. Arkansas Post National Memorial is located south of Gillett, and the park traces the history of Arkansas Post from its establishment in 1686. Inside the park, visitors take a self-guided tour of the area, including a layout of the town and an 1863 Civil War battlefield with remnants of Confederate trenches.

Arkansas Post National Memorial in Gillett.
Arkansas Post National Memorial in Gillett.

Our Arkansas State Parks are some of the best in the United States. And believe me, there are some amazing ones in the Arkansas Delta. If you’re interested in history, don’t miss these state parks:  Hampson Archeological Museum, Parkin Archeological Museum, Arkansas Post Museum, Jacksonport, Herman Davis, Lower White River Museum, Davidsonville, Powhatan, Marks' Mills Battleground and Louisiana Purchase. If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, you won’t go wrong with Lake Chicot, Village Creek, Lake Charles, Lake Poinsett, Lake Frierson, Mississippi River, Delta Heritage Trail, Crowley’s Ridge, Cane Creek and Moro Bay.

A historical marker in Twist tells the legendary story of B.B. King and "Lucille."
A historical marker in Twist tells the legendary story of B.B. King and "Lucille."
The story of "Lucille" in Twist.
The story of "Lucille" in Twist.

The B.B. King marker in Twist tells the legendary story of "Lucille." In the mid-1950s, while B.B. was performing at a dance in Twist, two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B.B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, then realized that he left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside. He ran back inside the burning building to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to name his guitar Lucille to remind him never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. From then until his death, each one of B.B.’s trademark Gibson guitars has been called Lucille.

Blytheville is considered by many to be the “Barbecue Capitol of Arkansas.” With not one, not two, but FIVE well-known and award-winning barbecue joints, it’s easy to understand why. Visits to the restaurants – Dixie Pig, Yank’s, Kream Kastle, Benny Bob’s and Roadie’s – will show you that all barbecue is not created equal. Each puts its own spin, and side dishes, on the beloved smoked meat of the southern United States.

The Big River Crossing in West Memphis provides amazing views of the Mississippi River.
The Big River Crossing in West Memphis provides amazing views of the Mississippi River.

The Big River Crossing connects West Memphis, Arkansas, to downtown Memphis, Tennessee. A major focus of the Big River Crossing is the “big river” itself, which visitors view from the nearly one-mile walkway built alongside the historic Harahan Bridge, one of the river’s former roadways. The Big River Crossing has the distinction of not only being the longest public pedestrian bridge across the “Father of Waters,” it is also the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge. The views of the mighty Mississippi from the walkway are unparalleled. The Mississippi River itself is one of the most iconic cultural aspects of the Arkansas Delta. The river brought immigrants, food, music and cultures of other countries to Arkansas. It formed a new culture along the entire Mississippi River Delta.

The Arkansas section of the Great River Road, part of a national scenic byway that runs 3,000 miles from Minnesota to Louisiana, features a wealth of historic sites, museums and attractions along the route. In February 2021, the historic byway received the Federal Highway Administration’s highest designation of All-American Road. To receive the All-American Road designation, a byway must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. Visitors to Arkansas’s first All-American Road can explore the history and culture of the Arkansas Delta and the entire state itself. From the Native Americans who called the area home to the musical legends who were born or raised in the region, travelers can visit sites to learn more about the mighty river and the lives of those who lived along its shores.

Historic Dyess Colony: The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess is a must for music lovers and history buffs alike.  In May 1934, “Colonization Project No. 1” was established in southwestern Mississippi County. It was named for W. R. Dyess, Arkansas’s first Works Progress Administration head, who suggested the idea of giving tenant farmers the opportunity to own their own land to one of FDR’s advisors. The colony was laid out in a wagon-wheel design, with a community center at the hub and farms stretching out from the middle. There were 500 small farmhouses, each with five rooms and an adjacent barn, privy and chicken coop. Ray and Carrie Cash moved their family from Kingsland to Dyess Colony in March 1935. Their son, J.R., who would later become known to the world as Johnny, was 3 years old when his family moved to Dyess. He would later say that many of his early songs, like “Five Feet High and Rising,” were inspired by his time in Dyess. He left the community in 1950 to join the Air Force and would eventually become one of the most influential musicians in the world. Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home includes the Cash home as well as the Dyess Colony Administration Building, centerpiece for one of the nation’s agricultural resettlement colonies under the New Deal. 

The house the Cash family moved into in 1935 has been restored as it was when Johnny lived there.
The house the Cash family moved into in 1935 has been restored as it was when Johnny lived there.

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna was Arkansas’s first James Beard Award winner and has been a part of the food culture in the Arkansas Delta for more than a century. The Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization “dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the American South,” believes Jones’ to be the oldest African American owned restaurant in the South and possibly the nation.

The Levon Helm Boyhood Home in Marvell has been restored and opened to the public in 2019. Helm (1940-2012), best known as the drummer and singer for the rock group "The Band," went on later to lead his own band and act in numerous movies. He grew up in and around Marvell and lived and worked on his family's small cotton farm in Turkey Scratch, about 8 miles north of Marvell. The home, originally across from the A. B. Thompson Store, was moved to avoid demolition. Marvell was chosen as the location for the restored home it is where Helm went to school and formed his first band while in high school.

The boyhood home of legendary singer/musician Levon Helm has been restored and moved to Marvell.
The boyhood home of legendary singer/musician Levon Helm has been restored and moved to Marvell.

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza weaves the story of the tenant farming and sharecropping systems with the history of the lives of the people who endured it. Using photographs, artifacts, oral histories and vintage 1930s news reels, the visitors to the museum will get a true sense of what tenant farmers overcame in their quest for a better way of life for themselves and their families. In 2019, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience added the museum to its list of locations that “provide safe spaces to remember and preserve even the most traumatic memories, but they enable their visitors to make connections between the past and related contemporary human rights issues.”

The Sultana Disaster Museum, located in Marion, is the only museum dedicated to America’s deadliest maritime disaster. The museum tells a story that most people do not know, the explosion of the Sultana, which took place on the Mississippi River in April 1865. On the early morning of April 27, 1865, the SS Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis, killing nearly 1,800 of the nearly 2,400 passengers onboard. Many of those were former Union soldiers, on their way home following the end of the Civil War. The boat sank near Marion, where the Sultana Disaster Museum is located. Descendants of passengers on the Sultana have donated items to the museum, which is currently in the process of fundraising for a new, state-of-the-art facility.

The Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion.
The Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion.

A little-known part of the Arkansas Delta’s history includes the Japanese American Internment Camps at Rohwer and Jerome. After entering World War II, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority, resulting in 10 incarceration sites for Japanese Americans for national security. Rohwer and Jerome were the easternmost camps. The WWII Japanese American Internment Camp Museum in McGehee is the permanent home of “Against Their Will,” an exhibit about those interned at Jerome and Rohwer. Actor George Takei’s family was sent to Rohwer from their home in California. Takei narrates interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer Relocation Center National Historic Landmark.

Communities

Historic Helena is one of the oldest incorporated towns in Arkansas. It was incorporated in 1833, three years before Arkansas became a state. Because of its proximity to the Mississippi, Helena became a busy river town in the early 1800s. In his book "Life on the Mississippi," Mark Twain described Helena as occupying “one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi.” During the Civil War, Helena held a prime strategic location – between Memphis and Vicksburg, along the banks of the Mississippi River. On July 4, 1863, Union and Confederate troops clashed over the coveted waterway. By days end, nearly 2,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. The Battle of Helena secured the Union stronghold on the river and proved to be the last major Confederate offensive in Arkansas. The historic town has numerous attractions you’ll want to visit – the Delta Cultural Center, the Helena Museum of Phillips County, Freedom Park, Fort Curtis and Delta Dirt Distillery. You’ll also find a variety of shops and restaurants in the downtown area. Helena is the only downtown on the Mississippi River for the 300 miles between Memphis and Vicksburg. The Helena River Park features a 60-foot boat ramp, one of the largest public access ramps on the lower Mississippi. A boardwalk takes visitors right to the edge of the river, with interpretive panels that explain some of the local ecosystem and Civil War history.

Don't miss grabbing a selfie at one of the "postcards" located across historic downtown Helena.
Don't miss grabbing a selfie at one of the "postcards" located across historic downtown Helena.

Lake Village lies on the curving shore of picturesque Lake Chicot, a 20-mile-long abandoned channel of the Mississippi River. Lake Chicot is Arkansas’s largest natural lake as well as the largest oxbow lake in North America. Because of its proximity to the Mississippi River, thousands of immigrants from across the world made their way to Lake Village and the Arkansas Delta. The history of the community and county can be found throughout the town. While Lake Village was not incorporated as a town until 1898, the history of the area begins much earlier, with the arrival of the Spanish in 1541. Near Lake Chicot, a marker designates the site where Charles Lindbergh landed in April 1923 after completing history's first night flight. Lake Village is also home to Lakeport Plantation, the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. The historic site researches and interprets the people and cultures that shaped plantation life in the Mississippi River Delta, focusing on the Antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods.

Plan a trip for some summer water fun at Lake Chicot in Lake Village.
Plan a trip for some summer water fun at Lake Chicot in Lake Village.

Monticello is one of the largest towns in southeast Arkansas. It is home to the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM), originally the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College. The Drew County Historical Museum offers visitors insights into the history of Monticello and Drew County. The Turner Neal Museum of Natural History, located on the picturesque campus of UAM, is home to the Pomeroy Planetarium and offers a wide variety of exhibits, including three collections of big game. For visitors looking for recreational activities, Monticello offers nearby Lake Monticello, a 1,500-acre plus lake with some of the best bass fishing in Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has two wildlife management areas located just a short drive from Monticello – Seven Devils Swamp WMA and Cut-Off Creek WMA offer a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Piggott is located along Crowley’s Ridge and is home to the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. The museum shines the light on one of America’s adventurous writers, Ernest Hemingway. It was the family home of his second wife, Pauline. The Pfeiffers converted a barn to give their son-in-law a writing space while visiting. He wrote portions of “A Farewell to Arms” and several short stories while staying with his in-laws. Piggott is also home to the Matilda and Karl Pfeiffer Museum and Study Center. Located in the Pfeiffer's 1933 Tudor Revival home, the museum features more than 1,400 mineral specimens that Matilda Pfeiffer collected over her lifetime. The house grounds serve as a preserve for native Arkansas plants. In the fall, nearby Pumpkin Hollow attracts visitors from miles around with its corn mazes, haunted barn and forest, hay slides and gourds and pumpkins grown on the premises.

The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott
The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott
Follow in the footsteps of the legendary Ernest Hemingway in Piggott.
Follow in the footsteps of the legendary Ernest Hemingway in Piggott.

Pine Bluff was incorporated in 1839 and the community thrived during the last part of the 19th century as a cotton center and river port, with a key factor in the early growth being the arrival of steamboats on the Arkansas River. There are many things to do in Pine Bluff for the entire family. Regardless of age, everyone will love the Arkansas Railroad Museum. The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas serves as a cultural crossroad: engaging, educating and entertaining through the arts and sciences. The center presents programming in the visual arts, performing arts and the sciences through exhibits, performances and classes. The Arkansas Entertainer’s Hall of Fame is located within the Pine Bluff Convention Center and honors individuals with Arkansas connections who have made significant contributions to the entertainment arts. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Delta Rivers Nature Center is a great place to learn about the history and ecology of the Arkansas Delta. Explore the region from the sky in a simulated crop duster, observe wildlife from Arkansas’s oxbows and the Arkansas River at the center’s two aquariums, and then head outside to walk along two miles of trails surrounding the facility.

Delta Rivers Nature Center in Pine Bluff is a great place to learn more about the state's natural world.
Delta Rivers Nature Center in Pine Bluff is a great place to learn more about the state's natural world.

Located in Arkansas’s Upper Delta, where the Ozarks meet the Delta alluvial plain, Pocahontas and Randolph County are a haven for fishing and floating, with five great rivers passing through the area. The Black, Current, Spring, Fourche and Eleven Point Rivers all offer top-notch canoeing and kayaking as well as plenty of opportunities to hook trout, bass, bream and crappie. Historic downtown Pocahontas itself is a treasure trove of Arkansas history. The 17-block area of the downtown historic district features buildings dating from the early 1870s and offers unique shopping and dining opportunities. Stop by the Futrell Pharmacy, one of the oldest pharmacies in Arkansas, which still boasts an old-fashioned soda fountain. Check out the Sanitary Barber Shop, said to be the oldest continuously operated barber shop in the U.S. It’s also home to the Randolph County Heritage Museum, where visitors learn more about the area, its people and the history of the county.

Because it is spring-fed, the Eleven Point can be floated year-round.
Because it is spring-fed, the Eleven Point can be floated year-round.

St. Charles is located on a bluff over the White River. Incorporated as a town in 1880, St. Charles is known as the site of the “single deadliest shot fired during the Civil War.” On June 17, 1862, Confederate sharpshooters fired upon four Federal ships traveling up the White River at St. Charles. One of the shots hit the steam drum of the USS Mound City, killing over 100 of the soldiers onboard. In the center of the town, visitors come upon a distinctive monument in the middle of the street. The St. Charles Battle Monument is a large, square granite monolith topped with an inverted cannon barrel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is believed to be the only monument that is dedicated to both Union and Confederate soldiers. St. Charles is home to the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established in 1935 for the protection of migratory birds. It is one of the most important areas for wintering waterfowl in North America. The refuge is also home to the only population of native black bear in the state of Arkansas and is designated as a Wetland of International Importance. Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge annually attracts about 455,000 visits from hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others. The refuge lies mostly in the floodplain of the White River, near where it meets the mighty Mississippi River. Long and narrow and varying from a quarter mile to 10 miles wide and approximately 60 miles long, the refuge is one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi River Valley. Its fertile forests and some 300 lakes are interlaced with streams, sloughs and bayous. The result is a haven for a myriad of native wildlife and migratory birds. 

The Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in St. Charles.
The Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in St. Charles.

Stuttgart began as a colony of German immigrants in the late 19th century. The town would also bring a crop to Arkansas that would become an important part of the culture of the state and the nation – rice was first introduced in the state near Stuttgart in 1902. While in Stuttgart, make plans for a visit to the Arkansas Museum of the Grand Prairie. The museum shows how the prairie pioneers lived, worked and played; it is also home to the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame. Other highlights include a one-of-a-kind “Coat of Many Feathers,” an 800-year-old Native American duck effigy pottery by Native Americans, 500 award-winning game calls, an antique decoy collection and much more. Mack’s Prairie Wings, considered America's Premiere Waterfowl Outfitter, offers ammunition, hunting game calls, archery, duck boats, ATV/truck hunting blinds, hunting gear, gifts, clothing and anything you need for an outdoor adventure.

The Arkansas Museum of the Grand Prairie gives a historical overview of the region.
The Arkansas Museum of the Grand Prairie gives a historical overview of the region.

Don’t miss a trip to Walnut Ridge and learn more about the historic stop made by the Beatles. In September 1964, four young men from Liverpool landed at the Walnut Ridge airport to be transported to a nearby vacation spot, with a planned return to the plane two days later. The schedule was to be kept secret, but word leaked out, and when the Fab Four returned to Walnut Ridge on Sunday, most of the town was waiting. This stop made Walnut Ridge the only town in Arkansas that the Beatles visited. In September 2011, the town of Walnut Ridge dedicated a life-size sculpture of the group in the city’s downtown area. The artwork depicts the group as they appear on the Abbey Road album cover. The sculpture is called “The British Invasion of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway,” in reference to Walnut Ridge’s location along the historic Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67. The next year the town unveiled the Guitar Walk, a 115- foot-long by 40-foot-wide guitar, based on an Epiphone Casino played by John Lennon. The walk honors the musicians that played along the nearby Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67. The guitar features nine plaques dedicated to some of the country’s musical legends, including Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. While in Walnut Ridge, you’ll also want to check out the Argenta Collection, an exhibit of archival Beatles photography. The collection includes 229 large format Beatles photographs including many rarely seen before. It is believed to be the largest such collection in the world.  Photos from the collections are on rotating display at the Lawrence County Library. Nearby is the Wings of Honor World War II Museum. It preserves the rich history of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School. The museum also houses an extensive collection of World War II nose art (nose art appeared on or near the “nose” of military aircraft).

Beatles at the Ridge festival in Walnut Ridge.
Beatles at the Ridge festival in Walnut Ridge.

Robert E. Lee Wilson established a sawmill in 1886 and a community soon built up around it – aptly named Wilson. It would become one of the largest farming empires in the South. Since 2010, community leaders and business owners have worked on making the quaint community a tourism destination. You’ll definitely want to check out the Wilson Café and Tavern. The menus feature Southern-inspired dishes, sandwiches and desserts that never disappoint. While you’re in Wilson, do some shopping at the stores located around the quaint, Tudor-inspired town square. Don’t miss White’s Mercantile, owned by Holly Williams, granddaughter of the legendary Hank Williams. The shop offers everything from clothing to kitchen items, candles, Southern accents, books and more. One of the newest shops is Tom Beckbe, a brand known for classic sporting apparel and accessories. The Tom Beckbe Outpost opened in Wilson in 2019. Across the square, you’ll find Hampson Archeological Museum State Park. The state-of-the-art facility provides visitors with many opportunities for hands-on experiences as well as visually stunning displays. The park exhibits a nationally renowned collection from the Nodena site, a 15-acre palisaded village that once thrived on the Mississippi River.

 

Learn more about the Native American heritage of the Arkansas Delta at Hampson Archeological Museum State Park.
Learn more about the Native American heritage of the Arkansas Delta at Hampson Archeological Museum State Park.