Great River Road Byway - West Tennessee Explore along the Mississippi River

Explore along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway

Legendary author Mark Twain called the Mississippi River “The Body of the Nation” and on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway it’s easy to see why. The byway stretches across 10 states — that’s Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana — originating in the lake country of Minnesota and flowing through the heartland of America to its end in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast. That’s over 2,000 miles of sweeping views, charming drives, lush riverbanks and well-preserved landmarks connecting America, along with plenty of good food and pleasant people in between.

The transcontinental Great River Road was hatched in 1938 by consensus of all 10 states’ governors to showcase the beauty of one of America’s best treasures. The road crisscrosses the river through the states, with green byway signs that have been a fixture of the Great River Road for years.

In Tennessee, the byway takes you to incredible scenic areas along the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Plain, home to an amazing array of wildlife and a birdwatcher’s paradise. The outstanding vistas and overlooks of the Chickasaw Bluffs are prime spots for eyeing migratory patterns along with inspiring views of the Mississippi River. Travel to Reelfoot Lake for fishing, canoeing and exploring just like naturalist John James Audubon did on his way down the Mississippi River. Campsites, state parks and marinas dot the scenic byway and the river, inviting you to plunge in and experience America’s greatest river for yourself.

In addition to its beauty, the Great River Road has plenty of history, including Civil War landmarks such as Fort Pillow State Historic Park. In Memphis, stop in at the Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island River Park or the Memphis Cotton Exchange to learn how the river connected Southern cotton growers with Northern textile mills.

There are few roads in America that contain the depth and breadth of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, connecting some of America’s most enchanting wildlife refuges and engaging historical landmarks along one path. This is a true piece of Americana, meant to be savored.

The Legacy of Martin Luther King on Tennessee's Great River Road

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the driving forces in the fight for racial justice, which the Civil War 100 years earlier had only begun. His assassination in 1968 at the age of 39 made him a martyr for the cause he so energetically defended. The building where he was shot, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee along the Great River Road, stands today as part of the National Civil Rights Museum - a memorial to the life and legacy of this remarkable man.

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Throughout history, the Mississippi River influenced many lives: the Dakota, Chippewa, and Hopewell cultures; early French voyagers; African-Americans seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad; and many more. Through its charming river towns and metropolitan cities, historic sites and cultural artifacts, today's Great River Road still links resources, people, and history.