One Tank Travels: Helena-West Helena

We invite you to have “More Fun Per Gallon”  in Arkansas this year. Each day we will be blogging on different Arkansas destinations that can be reached on one tank of gas or less. This is basically every corner of The Natural State. We hope these suggestions help you in planning a trip to remember.

Today’s Trip: Helena-West Helena

I’ll admit that Helena-West Helena is one of my favorite towns in the Arkansas Delta. The community is steeped in history, ranging from Native Americans to European explorers to Mark Twain himself.

Located alongside the Mighty Mississippi, historic downtown Helena is one of Arkansas’s oldest communities, with an original incorporation date of 1833. West Helena received incorporation in 1917. On Jan. 1, 2006, the cities combined into Helena-West Helena.

Helena-West Helena’s history is tied to the Mississippi River, which runs alongside the eastern border of the historic downtown. As early as 1811, the town was becoming a booming river town because of its proximity to the river. The waterway played a part in the community’s Civil War history. The river itself became history during the great floods that would continuously threaten the region.

Visitors’ first stop to Helena-West Helena should be the Arkansas Welcome Center, located on the US 49 bypass. The center is a great place to pick up brochures and information on Helena-West Helena, the Arkansas Delta and the entire state. It’s also an opportunity to grab a hot cup of coffee before you begin your journey throughout Helena-West Helena.

Any visit to Helena-West Helena should include stops by the Delta Cultural Center and the Helena Museum of Phillips County. Both museums offer visitors an insight into the history of the county and the region. The Pillow-Thompson House, operated by Phillips Community College/University of Arkansas, is open to the public for tours and is one of the best examples of Queen Anne architecture in the state.

The 1863 Battle of Helena was the last major Confederate offensive in Arkansas during the Civil War. Helena-West Helena’s Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration kicked-off in May with the dedication of a replica of Fort Curtis, a Union fortress built after Federal forces captured the town in June 1862. Over the next few years, additional interpretive exhibits and signage will be placed throughout the historic city. Freedom Park will feature five major exhibits that explore the African-American experience in Civil War Helena, following the progression from fugitive slave to Contraband to freedom, and, for some, enlistment in the Union Army. Estevan Hall, the oldest remaining family structure in historic Helena, will serve as a Civil War Helena visitors’ center and provide guests with insight into how families were impacted by the Federal occupation of the city. Other locations for interpretive signage include the four batteries (A, B, C, and D) from 1863’s Battle of Helena – still clearly visible on Helena landscape; the Civil War era Moore-Horner House; the Helena Confederate Cemetery; Court Square Park; Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage; and Helena Museum of Phillips County. To learn more about Helena-West Helena’s Civil War past, log on to

If you love music, make sure and catch a live broadcast of “King Biscuit Time,” the longest-running daily blues show in the nation. Blues Hall of Famer “Sunshine” Sonny Payne hosts the program weekdays from 12:15-12:45 p.m. from the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center at 141 Cherry St. Afterwards, head to Bubba’s Blues Corner and browse through the music of blues legends and up-and-comers.

Want to get a great view of the Mighty Mississippi? You have to head over to the River Reach Park. If you REALLY want to get up-close-and-personal with the Father of Waters, rent a canoe or kayak at Quapaw Canoe Company. They can even take you on a guided tour.

Don’t miss the Delta Heritage Trail State Park, a rails-to-trails conversion being developed along the 73-mile former Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way. Hikers, walkers and bicyclists can enjoy part of all of the 14 miles that have been completed.

There’s even more to do in Helena-West Helena. Check out the town’s City Listings page here.

Historic downtown Helena offers great shopping options as well. On Cherry Street alone, you’ll find Handworks of Historic Downtown Helena, Gracious Living, Cotton and Kudzu, and Delta Gypsy.

And of course, you’ll need to find some food! If you’re downtown and want to grab a quick bite, check out Roadkill Grill, one of the area’s only roving food trucks. Jerry offers a varied menu with daily and weekly specials. Check out for a listing of specials and where the truck will be located throughout the week. Kelly’s is a long-time favorite of locals and tourists alike, featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner. On Fridays and Saturdays, stop by the mobile Pasquale’s Tamales, located right off HWY 49 as you approach the 49 bypass. You must try the tamales! You can also get the tamales at T-Mac’s Catfish Cabin and Delta Bar-B-Q, located a few miles west of the Helena-West Helena city limits (3136 HWY 49). T-Mac’s offers everything from barbecue to catfish to salads to seafood. Ray’s Dairy Maid, located in Barton at 5322 HWY 49, was the only Arkansas restaurant featured on Alton Brown’s “Feasting on Asphalt” series on the Food Network. The diner is known for their wonderful homemade pies but they also serve a great burger and plate lunch.

If your plans include more than one day…and I think they should…you’ll need some overnight accommodations. The Edwardian Inn is located within blocks of historic Helena and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The beautifully restored 1904 Colonial Revival home features eight original mantles made in Chicago, as well as “wood carpeting” made in Germany. Closer to the outskirts of Helena-West Helena you’ll find the Best Western Inn and Motel 6, both of which provide guests such lodging amenities as high-speed Internet, swimming pools, refrigerators and microwaves.

So fill your tank, grab the family and head to Helena-West Helena for the day, the weekend or the entire week! Safe travels!

Kim Williams


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