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Best Stops on the Great River Road in Arkansas

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The Great River Road through Arkansas is a portion that many people tend to forget about. As you traverse the length of the Mississippi River, the eastern side through Tennessee and Mississippi get all of the attention. However, that mentality means you’ll miss out on a bunch of cool places along the Great River Road in Arkansas. Explore the history of Arkansas and the Mississippi River through the best food, attractions, and sights on this All-American road trip.

A selfie with a road sign for the Great River Road in Arkansas
My selfie with an Arkansas Great River Road sign just south of Lake Chicot

Historical Stops on the Great River Road

There is a rich history to be found along the Great River Road in Arkansas. You’ll sites from later mound building cultures all the way up to World War II. Like much of the journey down the Great River Road, these stops help to tell the story of the people who’s lives depended heavily on the mighty Mississippi River.

One of the most interesting sites is located a little bit off the Great River Road. Parkin Archaeological State Park is just west of West Memphis. This site was occupied for hundreds of years, until 1550 CE. Researchers at the site have even discovered evidence that Hernando de Soto visited the location in 1541. The park is beautiful and also features mounds remaining from its time of occupation.

While many of the famous Civil War sites along the Mississippi River are on the east side, Arkansas has it’s own locations as well. In particular, the city of Helena was the site of the Battle of Helena on July 4th, 1863. This date also happens to be the day Vicksburg fell, and the day after Gettysburg ended. This historic town is full of interesting museums like the Pillow Thompson House, Delta Cultural Center, and New Fort Curtis.

The Arkansas Post National Memorial is a great stop on the Great River Road in Arkansas
Learn about Arkansas’s early history

Further to the south, you’ll find Arkansas Post National Memorial. It is here that the first permanent European settlement in Arkansas was settled. This location on the Arkansas River was once even the capital of the state. You can learn about the early history of the state at the visitor museum located here, or explore the waters of the Arkansas River.

I’d also recommend a visit to the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in McGee. This museum helps bring to light a dark chapter in American history. The Arkansas Delta was home to two separate internment camps. While driving the Great River Road in Arkansas, you’ll pass directly by the camp at Rowher as well as this museum.

Best Eats Along the Way

The great food starts early on the Great River Road through Arkansas. You’ll drive right past Kream Kastle in Blytheville, so go ahead and plan a stop. This old-school drive in features burgers and bbq sandwiches. I don’t know about you, but I love a good drive-in fast food joint and especially one that does food well. You can get your catfish fix directly across the street at Katfish Kastle. Just make sure you leave room for later on in the trip.

No trip along the Great River Road in Arkansas would be complete without a stop at Jones Bar-B-Q Diner. Considered one of the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the American south, it’s also got some of the best BBQ. The experience is no frills, simply BBQ pork sandwiches, but it’s in that simplicity that makes it delicious. Prepare to get there early, because once they run out then that’s all there is for the day.

Jones BBQ Diner is one of the best food stops on the Great River Road in Arkansas
Don’t let the appearance fool you for what deliciousness you’ll find inside

Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales is another must eat along the way. You can’t miss this one as you drive through Lake Village next to Lake Chicot. The tamales are hot and fresh every day, and really are famous the world over as Arkansas best tamales. However, Rhoda’s also makes some killer pies as well. So make sure you fill up on tamales, get some to go, and grab a pie for the rest of the trip as well!

Scenic Sights to See in Arkansas

The scenic overlooks of the northern Mississippi River have given way to different sights by the time you reach the Great River Road in Arkansas. However, this portion of the Great River Road is pretty scenic in its own right. All along the way you’ll find examples of life in the Mississippi Delta, including farms and plantations. One plantation in particular you can stop at is Lakeport Plantation which is still in operation today and sits just off the Mississippi River.

One of the most scenic places you’ll drive through is the White River National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll find old cypress trees and quiet bayous. It preserves a part of the natural state that’s different than much of what the rest of Arkansas offers. There is plenty of hiking available, giving you the chance to stretch your legs on an otherwise long drive. The refuge stretches for miles north and south of the road, giving you plenty of ways to find some solitude as well.

Lake Chicot is a natural wonder along the Great River Road in Arkansas
Explore the cypress trees and swamps along Lake Chicot

Towards the southern portion of the Great River Road as it runs through Arkansas, you’ll encounter Lake Chicot. This lake is the largest oxbow lake in the United States. Formed from a massive oxbow that separated form the Mississippi River over 300 years ago. It’s a perfect place for fishing and boating, but also offers more than 100 campsites. The Lake is a fantastic place to spend a couple of days, especially if you’re road tripping in the summer heat.

Notes on Driving the Great River Road in Arkansas

Unlike Missouri to the north, the Great River Road is well defined in Arkansas. You can easily drive from the border with Missouri all the way to the border with Louisiana. There are also a few spurs or other loops you can take to extend the trip. However, I’d also be the first to say that you don’t need to stick to the defined route 100% of the time.

The biggest reason for this is that it’s just not as scenic as the portion in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. Much of the road runs miles away from the river, so there aren’t many overlooks. That’s not to say it’s not a nice drive, but it’s more about the destinations than the drive itself. There is still a ton to see and do along the way, so make time for that.

Another thought to consider is that there are few crossings over the river. If you’re just driving the Great River Road through Arkansas, then you can ignore this. Yet, if you’re taking in all ten states like we did, you’ll want to strategically cross the river. Plan out ahead where you’ll make crossings into Tennessee (Memphis) and Mississippi to enjoy what is on that side of the river too.

Expanding Your Trip to Arkansas Beyond the River

Arkansas really does live up to it’s name as the Natural State. Taking a road trip along it’s eastern side isn’t the only way that you can explore the state. I’ve gotten a chance to spend a bunch of time in Northwest Arkansas. It’s a really relaxed part of the state, with a ton of natural beauty all around. You can also take a trip through the central portion of the state, visiting iconic cities like Little Rock or Hot Springs. Take advantage of your time in the state and the freedom of the open road to explore everything Arkansas has to offer.

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