Great River Road National Scenic Byway – AR
- DesignationAll-American Road (2002/2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Cultural
- LocationAR, IL, IA, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, MO, TN, WI
- Length391 of 3292.5 total miles
The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River, the second longest river in America, begins as a trickle at Lake Itasca headwaters and grows and strength as it travels south to create state lines for 10 states. The byway lines both sides of the river in Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The river was important for settlement of the western United States as goods were shipped north. Logs, from northern forests, were shipped downstream to be cut into lumber for new settlements. The Mississippi River is teeming with history and culture as riverboats moved people up and down the river and gave travelers the opportunity to enjoy its music, like the blues in Tennessee, or the Cajun and Creole culture from New Orleans’ French Quarter, and Louisiana’s cooking, jazz, and blues.
The Mississippi offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Limestone cliffs line the river allowing for overlooks to see Mississippi’s splendid panoramas, or to enjoy the wildlife that calls the Mississippi River home, or to watch boats and barges as they navigate the Lock and Dam systems. Waterfalls, forests, prairies, and communities of every size dot the Great River Road. Be sure to allow time to enjoy its parks, beaches, museums, music, and food.
Story of the Byway
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway of Arkansas serves as a fantastic way to explore the heritage and traditions of Arkansas’s eastern border. Following the Mississippi River and traversing the entire eastern border of the state, the byway offers travelers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Delta region and the agricultural lands that have been undeniably shaped by the river.
The Great River Road spans all ten Arkansas counties that border the Mississippi River from north to south. The 362-mile route consists of portions of 13 highways, forest service and county roads, and city streets. Most of the scenic byway in Arkansas crosses agricultural lands and sections of the route pass through remnants of the original wetlands as well as towns whose identities and economies are intrinsically tied to the river. From Marianna to Helena, however, the route infiltrates part of the nation’s largest alluvial plain, the woodlands of the St. Francis National Forest on Crowley’s Ridge, allowing travelers to relish in both the wonders of the Mississippi River and its legacy of molding surrounding landscapes.
Points of Interest
Unusual geological feature that covers more than 15,000 square miles of eastern Arkansas and was formed by the ancestral Mississippi and Ohio rivers eroding the land on each side of the remnant ridge
Lake Chicot State Park
The largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America, with fantastic angling, birdwatching, and boating opportunities
Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge
One of nation’s oldest refuges for native and migratory birds located in northeast Arkansas adjacent to the bootheel of Missouri
The Lakeport Plantation house was built in 1859 in the Delta of the Mississippi River. Retaining many of its original architectural features, the house’s exhibits tell the stories of slavery, sharecropping, and the Johnson family.
The Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center
The WWII Japanese American Internment Museum at McGehee explores the history of both the Rohwer and Jerome internment camps.
Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home
Exhibits tell the story of this resettlement colony for impoverished farmers during the Great Depression, and the Cash home has been restored and furnished as it existed in the 1930s and 1940s.
Cultural Tour of Arkansas’s Delta
Starting from Helena, heading south along the Great River Road, enjoy a cultural heritage tour of what the Delta region of Arkansas has to offer. In Helena, visit the Delta Cultural Center, housed in a 1912 train depot, to learn about the history, art, and culture of the people of the Delta from the 1800s through the 1940s. Heading south along Highway 44, to Highway 20, to Highway 316, to St. Charles and the White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, you will enter the territory of the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Again, heading south to Lake Village, located on Lake Chicot, you’ll find a 20-mile-long abandoned channel of the Mississippi River with several options for accommodations. Spend time soaking up Lake Chicot State Park, home to the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America, with great fishing, birdwatching, and boating opportunities.
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