- 21 miles (33 km)
- Take 1-2 hours to fully enjoy this byway.
Visit the St. Francis Scenic Byway, part of the Great River Road through the St. Francis National Forest. This 21-mile route winds its way from Marianna to West Helena on Arkansas Highway 44 and Forest Service Road 1900. The route runs through the heart of the St. Francis National Forest, which lies in the Delta region of southeastern Arkansas. The byway will show you some of the more unusual aspects of the region as you travel along the fertile bottomlands along the rivers, such as Crowley's Ridge, with an irregular surface of broad valleys, narrow gullies, and steep slopes and hills.
In addition to enjoying views of the Mississippi and St. Francis River Valleys, byway travelers can participate in the many water recreation opportunities the forest's lakes and rivers supply. Spend the day fishing on the shores of Storm Creek Lake, which almost always guarantees anglers a bite or two. Bear Creek Lake is the perfect place to bring a group of friends for camping, picnicking, and exploring the plant and animal life of the St. Francis National Forest.
Introduce yourself to early Mississippi River life at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena through its exhibits, crafts, music, and cultural demonstrations. In town, stroll among historic residential districts, four Civil War batteries and a World War I monument. Take a quiet walk through the Helena Confederate Cemetery, and collect charcoal rubbings of the stones or read the names of soldiers who died in the Civil War. For a more musical view of the south, plan your trip to coincide with the International King Biscuit Blues Festival, the biggest free Blues festival around. Share in the tradition of blues music from all around the world.
Explore the many acres of the St. Francis National Forest as you travel the route that shares its name. Providing you with an experience that is rich with cultural history and recreational fun, this route is a worthwhile journey, no matter the season.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Bear Creek Lake (AR)
This 625-acre lake area includes three campgrounds (twoindividual, one group), two picnic areas, one nature trail withinterpretive signs, a swimming area, a boat ramp, and abundantbream and bass fishing. Bear Creek Nature Trail provides a one-mile loop winding through groves of large specimens of native trees. There are excellent scenic views of the lake shoreline, including Beech Point.
The byway passes by Bear Creek Lake.
Delta Cultural Center (AR)
The Delta Cultural Center, an agency of the Department ofArkansas Heritage, provides insight into the Arkansas Delta, itspeople, and their history. The center was established to preservethe legacy of the land and the people of the area, combiningeducation and entertainment to fulfill its mission. It is housed intwo locations, a 1912 Missouri-Pacific train depot and a visitorcenter located one block away. The center hosts both permanent andtemporary exhibits on subjects such as the Mississippi River,frontier life, the Civil War, and music of the Delta. Don't forgetto visit the "children's caboose." Located in a restored traincaboose, this exhibit offers a variety of activites forchildren.
The Delta Cultural Center is in Helena, the southern terminus of the byway.
Settlers arrived in this area after being displaced by the 1812 New Madrid earthquake and the War of 1812. Helena was named for the daughter of Sylvanus Phillips, a land speculator who laid out the town site in 1820. It became the county seat in 1830 and was incorporated in 1833, making it the second oldest incorporated city in Arkansas.
The city is home to the International King Biscuit Blues Festival, the Delta Cultural Center, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, and the historic Queen Anne-style Pillow-Thompson House, which is open for tours. Come and see more than 20 buildings in Helena on the National Historic Register, along with historic residential districts, four Civil War batteries, and a World War I monument. Stop by and visit the Confederate Cemetery in Helena where General Patrick Cleburne is buried. The downtown area includes a Sea Wall Mural.
Helena also offers excellent views of the Mississippi River from the Helena Reach River Park, the Helena Levee Walk, and the Helena Bridge to Mississippi.
Helena is at the southern end of the byway.
Helena Confederate Cemetery (AR)
The Helena Confederate Cemetery was established in 1869 andincludes about 73 marked and 29 unmarked gravestones. More thanhalf the bodies are casualties of the July 4, 1863 Battle ofHelena. These soldiers were originally buried in other local gravesand reinterred when the cemetery opened. Many veterans who survivedthe war also chose to be buried there. Among the burials is thegravesite of Confederate General, Patrick R. Cleburne.
The Confederate Cemetary is located in Helena, which is at the southern end of the byway.
Marianna, one of the oldest towns in the Arkansas Delta, wasfounded in 1820 by settlers from Alabama and named for Mary AnnHarland, who donated the property for the town. It was incorporatedin 1870 and became the county seat when Lee County was formed in1873.
A downtown walking tour features a beautiful town square, with aClassic Revival style courthouse anchoring the north end, and apark with a gazebo and a General Robert E. Lee Monument in thecenter. Marianna's commercial district recently joined numerousother structures in the city on the National Historic Register.
The city also includes the Lee County Museum, thestate-of-the-art McClendon-Mann-Felton Cotton Gin, and theUniversity of Arkansas Cotton Branch Experiment Station and SoilTesting Lab. Marianna is the home of Rodney Slater, Federal HighwayAdministrator and later Secretary of Transportation, during theadministration of President Bill Clinton (1992-2000).
Marianna is the northern terminus of the byway.
St. Francis National Forest (AR)
Much of the 20,946-acre forest is located on Crowley's Ridge and covers areas in Lee and Phillips counties of Arkansas. The forest takes its name from the St. Francis River, which forms the eastern boundary of the Park. St. Francis State Park has many recreational qualities, one of which is camping. There are three main campgrounds called Beech Point, Lone Pine, and Storm Creek Lake. Enjoy other leisures the park provides by going picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, exploring the area on an ATV, observing wildlife, fishing, hunting, or canoeing.
The byway passes through St. Francis National Forest.
St. Francis River (AR)
Along the river are fishing camps, including the Harris FishingCamp. Prior to the 1960s, the river was spanned by two suspensionbridges, one for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad and the other forlocal traffic. The bridges were raised to allow barges and otherriver traffic to reach the Mississippi River.
The St. Francis River runs not far from the byway in most of the way, and right alongside it for a little ways.
Storm Creek Lake (AR)
This 425-acre lake provides some great fishing for largemouthbass, crappie, red-eye bream, channel catfish and hybrid bassstripers, along with a wheelchair friendly fishing pier. There isone campground (12 sites) located in a hardwood grove near thelake.
The byway passes by Storm Creek Lake.
West Helena (AR)
West Helena evolved as an industrial extension of the City ofHelena, located 5 miles east. Founded in 1909, the city was builtaround factories and mills that Helena had no room for. West Helenawas incorporated in 1920. It includes several structures on theNational Historic Register.
The byway passes through West Helena on its way to Helena, its southern terminua.