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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Skeets McDonald

    (1915-1968) More >

    Skeets McDonald

    (1915-1968)
    Born on a farm in Greenway (near Rector), McDonald was a noted singer-songwriter. Best-known for his self-penned chart-topper "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," McDonald was a honky-tonk singer and songwriter whose work helped serve to bridge the gap between country and rock and roll. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.