Arkansas is rich in history and there’s no better way to take it all in than a trip down the Great River Road.
Delta Cultural Center
Located in downtown Helena, the Delta Cultural Center is really two buildings. The Depot features two permanent exhibits, one telling the story of the Arkansas Delta and its people, from prehistoric days to the present and the second detailing the role the state played in the Civil War. One block away you’ll find the Visitors Center, which is home to several traveling exhibits and its permanent feature, Delta Sounds. Delta Sounds features listening stations where visitors can listen to all the music of the Arkansas Delta, including blues, gospel and rockabilly. It’s also home to the longest running daily blues radio show in the U.S. – King Biscuit Time.
Lake Chicot State Park
Lake Chicot is Arkansas’s largest natural lake. This 20-mile long oxbow lake was part of the Mississippi River until centuries ago, when the river altered its course and the lake was cut off. Now the lake is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Thanks to its location along the Mississippi Flyway, the birding is fantastic and the water is rife with crappie, bass and catfish. There are campsites and cabins and boat and bicycle rentals to round out your visit.
The Lakeport Plantation house in Lake Village is the last remaining antebellum Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. Built in 1859, the home has been beautifully restored into a museum focusing on the lifestyles and relationships between and people who lived and worked at Lakeport.
Parkin Archeological State Park
Parkin Archeological State Park was the site of a former American Indian village from A.D. 1000 to 1600 which is believed to be Casqui, the village visited by explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. Archeological excavations are often underway here and can be viewed via guided tour. Exhibits and audio tours are also available. Parkin remains one of the last archeological sites of its kind in the region as many were destroyed during the settling of eastern Arkansas.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a great time to explore America’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byway.
Fall is the perfect time to drive the Great River Road. Vibrant colors paint the trees from Minnesota to northern Mississippi, and you’ll find festivals, farmers markets and fun activities all along the Mississippi River corridor.
Looking for a few things to see and do in each of the 10 Great River Road states? We’ll head north to south with our suggestions:
Minnesota: Want to see where the Mississippi River starts its journey to the Gulf of Mexico? Visit Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where you can walk – yes, walk – across the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Wisconsin: A perfect stop to see fall color, Grandad Bluff in La Crosse gives you a 600-foot-high view of the city below and the Mississippi River beyond.
Illinois: Make a stop in the charming community of Galena, where you can find historic sites, tempting shopping, and toast-worthy wineries.
Iowa: Want a great view? Hop aboard Dubuque‘s Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. Ride to the top for an astonishing panoramic view of the Mississippi River and three states.
Missouri: This stop isn’t really more of a where, it’s a what: St. Louis barbecue. St. Louis has dozens of delicious barbecue options, including perennial favorite Pappy’s Smokehouse.
Kentucky: Learn about the Mississippi River’s role in the Civil War at Columbus-Belmont State Park, where you can find a six-ton anchor that – along with a mile-long chain – was used to blockade the river during battles between the North and South.
Tennessee: Students of American history should visit The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, an educational experience built around the preserved Lorraine Motel. Learn about the struggle for civil rights in America and see the preserved hotel rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last hours.
Louisiana: You might recognize this place from numerous movies and TV shows — Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie welcomes visitors with an awe-inspiring canopy of 300-year-old oak trees leading to a pristine antebellum plantation.
While journeying down the Great River Road, you’ll pass through ten different states, each with its own unique dining culture. Here are some restaurants located just off the GRR that you should definitely check out.
Minneapolis, MN: The Bachelor Farmer
Located in a newly restored building built in 1881, The Bachelor Farmer captures the historic yet modern feel of the downtown Twin Cities. You’re guaranteed the freshest Nordic-style food, thanks to their use of local ingredients, including produce from their rooftop garden.
La Crosse, WI: The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern
Dine on Waterfront Restaurant‘s contemporary versions of American classics, relax in the cushy lounge and enjoy the smooth sounds from the piano bar. And as the name hints, patrons can appreciate panoramic views of the Mississippi River, as the restaurant is situated along the waterfront.
Dubuque, IA: L. May Eatery L. May Eatery takes pride in its use of local ingredients, serving a rotating seasonal menu of “gourmet comfort food.” Whether you’re craving a sophisticated pizza, delectable seafood or a refreshing cocktail, L. May guarantees delicious cuisine.
Quincy, IL: Tiramisu’
Order the unique homemade pasta when you visit Tiramisu’. This Italian restaurant also offers a fine selection of wine, pizzas and more. A great place to unwind.
St. Louis, MO: Bogart’s Smokehouse
Strap on your bib for a BBQ excursion at Bogart’s Smokehouse. You’ll need an appetite for this one, as the smokehouse serves up mouthwatering meats like pulled pork, smoky brisket, apricot bruleed ribs, pastrami and prime rib.
Memphis, TN: Restaurant Iris
Specializing in French-Creole cuisine, Restaurant Iris has been named Memphis’ “Best Restaurant” for the past four years by a number of qualified reviews. Its charming atmosphere can be attributed to its presence inside a restored old home near the historic Overton Square.
New Orleans, LA: Commander’s Palace
Last stop on this culinary food tour of the Mississippi… New Orleans! Commander’s Palace is the perfect place to experience New Orleans culture. Serving award-winning Creole dishes since 1880, the restaurant holds vibrant history, and vast experience has driven their success throughout the years.
Blues history is alive and well along the Great River Road. And while the genre is most prominent in the Deep South, you’ll find blues highlights in other states along the Mississippi as well.
Born in the Mississippi Delta in the late 19th century, blues originated from African American spirituals, work songs and chants. It’s no wonder then that Mississippi is flourishing with blues history. The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale honors Mississippi as the birthplace of the blues, and the Mississippi Blues Trail tells stories through words and images of historic bluesmen.
Memphis’ Beale Street District served as a music haven for African Americans at the turn of the 20th century and remains a legendary blues entertainment destination. Memphis also boasts the Mississippi River Museum, which features five galleries explaining the origins of the blues, including pieces such as vintage band equipment, radios and various records.
The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas focuses on the history of the Arkansas Delta, presenting exhibits, educational programs, tours and more. Their current exhibit, called, “Helena: Main Street of the Blues,” gives a unique perspective of the delta’s rich blues history.
Finally, Chicago’s Blues Chicago club features some of the area’s best blues artists and is a popular blues hotspot for fans all over the world.
Experience rich blues history along the Great River Road.
Explore the rich blues music history of the Arkansas Delta at the Delta Cultural Center, located in historic downtown Helena, AK. Comprised of two locations, the Depot and the Visitors Center, guests can learn Delta history through the museum’s exhibits, programs, events and tours. Visit the Depot’s “A Heritage of Determination” exhibit to learn about Delta history from the time of its earliest inhabitants through the great Mississippi River floods. Then walk a block north to the Visitors Center and see the “Delta Sounds” music exhibit.
Delta Cultural Center
141 Cherry St.
Helena, AR 72342
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