EXPLORE THE ARCH IN ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, WITH YOUR FAMILY
Everything you need to know for your family's visit to the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. From the tram to the museum, parking, fun things to do, and more!
The Arch has always held a fascination for me, ever since I was a little girl growing up near St. Louis, Missouri. I remember the day we finally got to go up in it and look out over the city of Saint Louis and the Mississippi River with Illinois beyond.
I knew I wanted our boys to experience that same feeling of awe that I had as a little girl looking out over such a view. So we planned a trip to St. Louis, with the Gateway Arch as one of our focal places of interest while there.
It was definitely the highlight of our trip, not just because of the view but because of our entire experience. Gateway Arch National Park goes on my list of favorite places we've visited as a family.
And even though it's not the beach, it makes for one of many wonderful and unusual spring break destinations for families.
WHAT DOES THE GATEWAY ARCH REPRESENT?
The Gateway Arch represents a gateway to the West. It's a symbol of westward expansion in the 19th century and what that meant for our country.
According to the National Park Service, “The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson's role in opening the West, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse.”
The national park consists of 90.96 acres, including both the Arch and the Old Courthouse, along with beautiful trails all around the Arch.
WHEN WAS THE ST. LOUIS ARCH BUILT?
The Arch's design was created by architect Eero Saarinen, who entered his design in a competition in 1947-1948. His monument design won the competition.
The Arch was then built from 1963 to 1965. It cost less than $15 million to build it.
HOW TALL IS THE ARCH?
The Arch is 630 feet tall at its highest point. And fun fact: It actually sways when you're up there.
In fact, the Arch sways up to 1 inch in 20mph winds and is actually built to sway up to 18 inches. Can you imagine?!
The foundations of the Arch go 60 feet into the ground. The Arch itself is constructed of stainless steel.
CAN YOU GO INSIDE THE ST. LOUIS ARCH?
Yes, you can, and if you have the opportunity to actually take the tram ride to the top, I highly recommend it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
While there are exits at both ends of the Arch, the only entrance is up the sidewalk a ways from the ends.
You'll walk toward the grassy knoll that extends out from the Old Courthouse to find the entrance, where you can go in and purchase tickets, get more information, and head through security.
After going through security, you'll take a walk through the museum in order to get to the tram and the gift shop. You'll have opportunity to explore the museum both before and after going to the top.
The Arch Museum is filled with history, including stories of pioneers and westward expansion.
One of the most memorable exhibits for me was about the St. Louis Fire of May 1849, that destroyed a great deal of St. Louis, including the Riverfront and many steamboats.
The museum also houses artifacts like a stagecoach, a covered wagon, and an authentic life sized tipi.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON A ST. LOUIS ARCH TRAM RIDE TO THE TOP
As you hop into line for either the North or South tram just outside the museum, you'll have a bit of a wait to get to the top. The entire tour, including pre-boarding, can take about an hour, depending on how long you stay at the top.
Be careful not to get in line any earlier than 5 minutes before your scheduled time, though.
After scanning tickets, you'll slowly move toward the entrance to the St. Louis Arch elevator, where you'll meet your guide for your trip to the top. She'll assign you a tram car number for your ride up.
After watching a short movie about the years when the Arch was being built, they'll snap a quick picture, which you can purchase when you come back down. Then you'll walk down the stairs to the tram doors.
Before you can enter your car, people coming down will empty out of it. Get ready to squeeze in because it's a tight fit; each pod holds only 5 seats, perfect for our family of 5.
The doors will seal, and up and away you'll go. You'll be able to see out the windows of your door all the way up. So you'll be able to see down, as well as the stairwell that seemingly goes on and on forever; you'll get a glimpse of the inner Arch, which includes a lot of concrete.
Jacob mentioned he'd hate to be the maintenance guy that forgets a tool and has to walk all the way back down to get it. I'd have to agree with him.
VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE ARCH
Once you're at the top, you can stay as long as you like. There will be guides and even a park ranger or two.
Enjoy the view of the city on one side and the view of barges gliding by on the Mississippi River, bordering Illinois, on the other side. As a little girl, I remember being fascinated by the swimming pools on the roofs of hotels.
If the sun's out, you might capture a picture of the Arch's shadow.
My boys really enjoyed being up there, even with the swaying we felt as we tried to walk down the center aisle. Zeke was just mesmerized by all of it, by the cars, the barges, the city, the riverfront.
I couldn't help but be a little mesmerized myself. It's easy to forget how small we really are as human beings.
Warning: It can get quite crowded, and you'll likely rub shoulders with other people perched on a ledge gazing out at the city. Also, as you make your way down to the tram, you'll need to pack in super tight as you wait for the trams to empty so you can get back on and head back down to the bottom.
The whole unforgettable experience is worth the wait time, worth the crowds, and worth being packed like sardines in a pod that feels like it's going to the moon.
HAVE A LI'L FUN OUTSIDE THE ARCH TOO!
I think we had just as much fun on the ground as we did going way up high. We took some time to walk up to the Old Courthouse.
We also took time to get a few pictures and go for a scooter ride.
Which brings me to the scooters in St. Louis… You'll likely see them on just about every corner. They are so fun!
I imagine locals probably get annoyed, but we had fun zooming up and down the tree-lined pathways all around the Arch.
And we weren't the only ones. Many many visitors were enjoying this fun, unique way to explore the city.
Disclosure: Technically, you're supposed to be 18 and have a driver's license to ride the scooters. Don't judge. And don't follow our example. (I know, I know, shame on us, since we all took turns on the one scooter we could find at the Arch… But man, it was fun.)
WHERE IS THE GATEWAY ARCH?
Gateway Arch National Park is located at 11 North 4th Street in St. Louis, Missouri, on the St. Louis Riverfront.
You can enter via the riverfront, the Walnut Street Bridge near the Old Cathedral, or through Laclede's Landing.
They offer a Pedestrian Map to help you find your way.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND GATEWAY ARCH PARKING?
Finding St. Louis Arch parking is not for the faint of heart. Even though you'll likely have to pay, there are plenty of places to park; you just have to find them.
The Arch itself has no parking.
While we parked in a parking garage just down the way from the Gateway Arch Grand Staircase on the other side of Eads Bridge, you can also pay for parking on the levee near the riverboat dock, just off South Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd.
The parking garage cost us $7, and it was good for all day. We did have to walk maybe 1/4 mile, but it was a nice walk along the Mississippi River and underneath the beautiful arches of the Eads Bridge.
Get Around St. Louis lists available parking facilities all around the city of St. Louis.
HOW DO YOU GET ST. LOUIS ARCH TICKETS?
Gateway Arch tickets can be purchased online, and they highly recommend reserving them in advance, especially if you're visiting in peak season. We purchased them online the day of, but there were only 2 time slots available, so I'd probably recommend advance purchase, as well.
They also have combo tickets available, so you can do a ride to the top and a riverboat cruise; or you can watch the Documentary Movie. Just be sure you're buying what you mean to buy before clicking.
It's relatively easy to buy tickets from your phone and have them sent to email. That way there's no need to even print the tickets.
St. Louis Arch prices range from $3 to $34.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO THE ST. LOUIS ARCH
There are a few things you need to know before heading to the Arch:
- You will need to allow enough time to get through security. While our wait time was maybe 10 minutes, you may have a much longer wait during peak times.
- While most facilities at Gateway Arch National Park are wheelchair accessible, there are a few that are not, including the tram ride to the top, the second and third decks of riverboats, and the upper floors at the Old Courthouse.
- Service animals are permitted.
- Strollers are allowed everywhere except the tram and the Observation Deck at the top. There is an area to park your stroller before heading up.
- There are no seats and no restrooms at the top of the Arch.
The St. Louis Arch is an unforgettable place and one we're definitely adding to our list of favorite places.
If you've never been, now is the time to go explore and check out all of the renovations that have been made, spend some time in the park, and maybe even reminisce about old times.
MORE ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, FAMILY TRAVEL ADVENTURES:
5 Reasons to Visit Soulard Market in St. Louis, Missouri – a historic farmer's market that began in 1779.