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Many consider the Great River Road National Scenic Byway America’s best-kept secret, but they also say that about the Talimena Byway and even Route 66 sections. But we like to consider the Arkansas portion the biggest kept secret. And, along the route, the towns in the Eastern part of Arkansas are home to beautiful back roads, deep-rooted history and good eatin.’
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway, officially designated in 2002, with the Arkansas portion notated in 2021, follows the path of the Mississippi River through 10 states. This road segment is among the 184 diverse routes across the United States, where the Department of Transportation encourages Americans to get off the interstate and experience the rural and scenic roads across our country. The whole route originates at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans. The northern end of the Arkansas portion begins at the concrete arch, crossing Highway 61 in Blytheville, welcoming visitors into the state.
Many communities along the Great River Road in Arkansas established themselves as crop and cotton headquarters when Mississippi County was the largest cotton-producing county in America from 1932 to 1960. Some considered it the “world leader in rain-grown cotton.” Today, historic sites and museums, downtown squares, and mercantiles continue to give visitors a glimpse of life when dirt streets were host to trading posts and railroad tracks carried cotton by barrels.
The Mississippi River was a critical establishing point for many communities along its path. The significance of steamboats and barges transporting goods and resources from this region to other parts of the nation and overseas built the reliable economy of many of the towns in its path, establishing credibility and necessity for much of the Western United States. Additionally, the Mississippi River was a tourist attraction for the curious and the unique musical styles, new art creations, and architecture brought differentiated cultural experiences for travelers.
Native Americans called the region home, using Crowley’s Ridge for protection, and the dense forests offered easy access to food and vegetation needed to sustain life. Early European settlers entered the continent at Arkansas Post because the Mississippi River brought the most accessible “highway” transportation. In 1815, this area was a launching pad for early explorers investigating the Louisiana Purchase.
The Great River Road also introduces travelers to the unique features of the Delta region, an agricultural landscape greeted by the alluvial floodplains along its banks. This section of Arkansas is home to a wide variety of waterfowl, significant Civil War battle sites, a maritime disaster, blues music musicians, and a unique agricultural landscape that feeds the world.
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway begins in Mississippi County and ends in the southern tip of Chicot County. Travelers enter the Arkansas portion of the byway in Blytheville and exit along the Louisiana border in Eudora.
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