Arkansas's Great River Road

Along Arkansas'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 10 counties in the state’s eastern Delta region, closely following along the mighty stream. 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. 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.

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.

In eastern Arkansas, 10 counties include sections of the Great River Road: Mississippi, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee, Phillips, Monroe, Arkansas, Desha, Chicot and Drew. From beautiful lakes to stunning sunsets, the Arkansas Delta is one of the most beautiful collections of landscapes you’ll find in the south. The region also features some of the richest history in the area, as well as some of the most fertile soil ever to cradle a seed.

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Location

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Nearby
Latitude: 35.998886 Longitude: -89.899651

Length of Scenic Drive

362 miles

Driving Directions

The northern start of Arkansas's Great River Road begins in Mississippi County, north of Blytheville. It continues along near the Mississippi River for over 350 miles, ending south of Eudora at the Louisiana border.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

The historical byway enters Arkansas outside Blytheville and exits at the Arkansas-Louisiana line outside Eudora. In fact, it’s easy to spot the EXACT location where the byway begins in The Natural State – it’s marked by a large concrete archway! The U.S. Highway 61 Arch is located at the Arkansas-Missouri border on U.S. 61. The monument is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and commemorates the completion of the paving of the first stretch of highway through Mississippi County. The impressive structure is the only known remaining concrete arch spanning a federal highway in Arkansas.

On the early morning of April 27, 1865, the SS Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis. It became America’s greatest maritime disaster, 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 in Crittenden County near Marion, where a monument was built to commemorate those lost during the disaster. The monument was recently relocated and can be found in a park just beside the Marion City Hall. The city is in the process of building a museum dedicated to the Sultana tragedy.

South of West Memphis you’ll find Horseshoe Lake. Travelers often comment on the beauty of the drive along Ark. 147 around the lake and on to the community of Hughes. The road winds around the scenic oxbow lake and continues on, crisscrossing through Arkansas Delta farmland. The drive also highlights some of the richest soil in the Arkansas Delta – and the fields around you are abundant with the crops of the season. There is a beautiful pecan grove along the drive that, most likely, dates back to the mid-1800s.

Marianna offers two must-visit attractions for travelers. Jones Bar-B-Que Diner has the distinction of being Arkansas’s only James Beard award-winning restaurant. Jones’s barbecue has been a part of the food culture in the Arkansas Delta for more than a century. In fact, the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization “dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the American South,” believes Jones’s to be the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the South and possibly the nation. Since receiving the Beard award in May 2012, pitmaster Harold Jones has drawn ‘que lovers from around the world to the small town. Visitors are also making their way to Marianna for the newest Arkansas State Park. The Mississippi River State Park, located a few miles outside the town, is a popular draw for campers, hikers, anglers and nature lovers. The park includes two campgrounds, two day-use areas, a group use area, the boat ramp at Bear Creek Lake, and the Bear Creek Lake Nature Trail. Beech Point Campground, the most popular campground on St. Francis National Forest, received a $1.4 million dollar “face-lift” and now features full hookups and amenities.

Experience the Civil War as Arkansans did by a visit to Historic Helena. The Battle of Helena and its impact moves to the forefront of the historic port town’s Civil War interpretation efforts during Arkansas’s Civil War Sesquicentennial through 2015. Visit the reproduction of Fort Curtis, a Civil War fort built by Union forces that helped repulse a Confederate attack on July 4, 1863. Explore the life of former slaves at Freedom Park. The park includes five major exhibits exploring the African-American experience in Civil War Helena and follow the journey from fugitive slave to freedom and beyond. Freedom Park was the first site in Arkansas to be designated as a part of the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

Following Arkansas’s Great River Road on south, plan a stop in McGehee at the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum. The museum serves as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center and features the exhibit, “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas.” The museum opened in April 2013 and former Rohwer internee George Takei attended the unveiling. Many Arkansans are unaware of the story of Jerome and Rohwer. After the United States entered World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority, creating 10 sites throughout the country to incarcerate Japanese-Americans as a means of national security. Rohwer and Jerome were established in March 1942 and served as the War Relocation Authority’s easternmost camp sites. The two camps would eventually house over 17,000 people. Jerome, located in Drew County, operated the shortest amount of time of any of the 10 camps, from Oct. 6, 1942, to June 30, 1944. All that remains of the camp is a smokestack from the camp’s laundry remains. A granite marker commemorates the camp’s location. Rohwer is located northeast of McGehee. The camp was opened Sept. 18, 1942, and did not close until Nov. 30, 1945, making it one of the last camps to cease operation. The location has several commemorative markers and a small cemetery. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

If you’ve never visited Lake Village, you’re missing out. Lake Village is located along the curving shore of picturesque Lake Chicot, a 20-mile long abandoned channel of the Mississippi River that is Arkansas's largest natural lake and North America’s largest oxbow lake. The historic Lakeport Plantation is the only remaining Arkansas plantation located along the Mississippi River that has not been significantly altered. Just north of downtown, a marker records the site where Charles Lindbergh landed in April 1923 after completing history’s first night flight.

And there’s so much more! Along Arkansas’s Great River Road you’ll find more historic sites, great outdoor opportunities such as hiking, fishing, hunting and wildlife watching, and some of the best food you’ll ever put in your mouth! Plan your own adventure along the scenic byway and find out just what you’ve been missing!

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