Plan a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, to visit Gateway Arch National Park? We will tell you how to organize your trip to St Louis. How to sightsee Gateway Arch, the smallest designated “national park,” and where to stay and eat. We tell you also other exciting things to do in St. Louis. So, check our detailed Gateway National Park Itinerary.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
What is a St. Louis Gateway Arch?
The Gateway Arch is a 630-foot (192 m) tall monument in St. Louis, Missouri. Gateway Arch National Park is located near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition on the west bank of the Mississippi River. It is clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted chain arch. It is the tallest arch in the world and the tallest accessible building in Missouri. The Arch was built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States and officially dedicated to “the American people.” The Arch is commonly referred to as “The Gateway to the West.” It is a National Historic Landmark in Gateway Arch National Park and has become an internationally recognized symbol of St. Louis.
Why is the Gateway Arch a National Park?
The Gateway Arch reflects the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century. The monument was erected to commemorate:
- Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening up the West,
- the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent westward movement of American explorers and pioneers;
- the first civil government west of the Mississippi River and the debate over slavery sparked by the case of Dred Scott, who sued for his freedom at the Old Courthouse.
Is Gateway Arch the smallest national park in the United States?
Yes. The Gateway Arch National Park is the smallest designated national park in the United States. It’s 91-acre (36.8 ha) park along the Mississippi River. But it’s a lot of things to do in the park and St.Louis as well, as it’s an incredible city. Gateway Arch was established as a national park in 2018. The park consists of the Gateway Arch, a steel catenary arch; the Old Courthouse, a former state and the federal courthouse where the Dred Scott case originated; and the 140,000 sq ft (13,000 m2) museum at the Gateway Arch. You can find more about the history in the book: The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch.
Gateway Arch National Park Interesting Facts
- The immediate area surrounding the Gateway Arch was declared the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (a national monument) by decree on December 21, 1935.
- Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bande designed the Arch in 1947.
- Construction of the Gateway Arch began on February 12, 1963, and was completed on October 28, 1965.
- The total cost of the Arch was $13 million (equivalent to $83 million in 2018 dollars).
- The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967.
- Gateway Arch became National Park in 2018.
- The observation deck at the top of Gateway Arch features 34 windows and can hold up to 160 visitors.
Components of Gateway Arch National Park
The Gateway Arch
The Gateway Arch is 630 feet (192 m) high and 630 feet (192 m) wide at its base. The legs are 54 feet (16.5 m) wide at the bottom and narrow to 17 feet (5.2 m) at the arch. There is a unique tram system that takes passengers to the observation room at the top of the arch.
The Old Courthouse was built on land originally bequeathed by the founder of St. Louis, Auguste Chouteau. It marks the site over which the arch extends. Its dome was built during the American Civil War and resembles the dome of the United States Capitol. It was the site of the local trials in the Dred Scott case.
Museum at the Gateway Arch
Below the Gateway Arch is a visitor center, which you enter through a circular entrance across from the Old Courthouse. The museum features exhibits on various topics, including westward expansion and the construction of the Arch, all told through the lens of St. Louis. The Tucker Theater, completed in 1968 and renovated 30 years later, seats 285 and features a documentary (Monument to the Dream) about the construction of the Arch. The visitor center also houses a gift store and café.
Gateway Arch National Park Itinerary – How to Get there?
Two airports serve St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) and MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (BLV). The St. Louis Lambert International Airport is located 14 miles north of downtown St. Louis. It has daily service to 78 destinations in the United States and around the world. From the airport, you can rent a car or take public transportation to Gateway Arch National Park.
If you driving by car:
- From Kansas City, Missouri is 3 hours and 45 minutes of driving (248 miles) via I-70 E.
- From Nashville, Tennessee is 4 hours and 30 min of driving (309 miles) by I-24 W. (check our post with the best things to do in Nashville).
- From Chicago, Illinois is 4 hours and 15 min of driving (296 miles) via I-55 S.
The Gateway Arch is located downtown the city. The address is 100 Washington Avenue St. Louis, Missouri, 63102, U.S. You have to park in the neighborhood as there is no parking next to the Gateway Arch National Park. But you will find a couple of paid parking in the downtown area, within walking distance to the Arch. You may only enter inside the Gateway Arch through the west entrance that faces Fourth Street and the Old Courthouse.
Gateway Arch National Park Itinerary – The Best Time to Visit?
All year is perfect for visiting this spectacular monument. We stayed in winter, and it was perfect, as there were no tourists.
- The Gateway Arch National Park grounds are open year-round from 5:00 am–11:00 pm.
- The museum is open from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm during the winter, and 9:00 am -8:00 pm during the summer.
- The Arch Store closes about 15 minutes before the museum closes.
- The Arch Cafe is open from 9 to 4 during the winter and 9 to 6 during the summer.
Top Things To Do at the Gateway Arch National Park
- Take a breathtaking tram ride to the top of the 630-foot monument, where you’ll have a magnificent view of St. Louis by day and night.
- Visit an underground museum that covers more than two centuries of history with its educational exhibits.
- Watch a 35-minute documentary, Monument to the Dream.
- Tour the historic Old Courthouse – site of several landmark trials.
- Take a cruise on the Mississippi River where you can see the Gateway Arch from a different perspective.
- Walk around the Gateway Arch and try to take great photos of this impressive monument.
Gateway Arch National Park Itinerary – Tips from Trip Planning
Is there an Entrance Fee to the Gateway Arch National Park?
Entrance to the Museum and the Visitor Center is free and does not require a ticket. But if you want to go to the Top of Gateway Arch you must purchase a ticket for the Tram Ride.
How much does it cost to go inside the Gateway Arch?
- Tram Ride to the Top of Gateway Arch costs: Adults $15 – $19 and for Children (3–15) $11 – $15. But if you have America the Beautifull Pass it will be cheaper. Details check on the official website. Check also combo tickets with the river cruise.
- Documentary Movie Monument to the Dream Film costs: Adults $7; Children (3–15) $3; America the Beautiful Pass $4.
Please remember that the last tram leaves one hour before the Gateway Arch closes. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. Buy your tram tickets online in advance so you do not have to wait in line to secure a seat because tickets sell out quickly in the spring and summer. If you purchased your tram ticket in advance, please arrive at least 30 minutes before your streetcar time. Unfortunately, the tram and the observation deck are not accessible to visitors with mobility impairments.
How much time do you need to visit Gateway Arch National Park?
In this Gateway Arch National Park itinerary, we suggest you plan at least 3-4 hours for your visit. If you purchase your ticket to the top of the Arch in advance, it will be enough for the tour to the top, visiting a museum, and walking around the Gateway Arch.
How the Gateway Arch Tour to the top looks like?
With a height of 63 floors, you do not have to climb the 1,076 steps that are only accessible to the maintenance team. Once you are in line for the tram, you will receive a ticket with your car number. You will then watch a short film before descending a few steps to your assigned tram car. A unique tram that works like a Ferris wheel takes you to the observation deck in four minutes; the return trip takes three minutes. The return tram runs about every 10 minutes and it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. At the top of the Arch, 10-20 minutes is enough to enjoy views and take some pictures. You’ll find restrooms inside the Gateway Arch National Park Visitor Center, but the observation deck does not have restrooms.
Is it worth exploring the Museum at the Gateway Arch for free?
Yes definitely. Regardless of whether you decide to buy a tram trip to the top of the Gateway Arch or not, do not forget to enter the museum. There is no entrance fee to the museum. And the exhibition is impressive, and you can learn a lot from it and recall crucial facts from the history of the U.S.
The Museum at the Gateway Arch features six engaging exhibits and galleries that will take you through two centuries of the country’s westward expansion. They are:
- The construction of the Gateway Arch – a fascinating look at how this unique monument came to be.
- Colonial St. Louis – the center of the fur trade.
- President Thomas Jefferson’s vision and the Lewis and Clark exhibit.
- Manifest Destiny – whether by war or treaty, this era addresses Americans’ belief that they had the right to expand into the West at any cost.
- The Riverfront Era – steamboats are responsible for making St. Louis the gateway to the West.
- New Frontiers – explores the 19th century and the rise of industrialization.
Other Activities for Gateway Arch National Park Itinerary
Take a St Louis City Trolley Tour
Because visiting the smallest park in the US will take you no more than 3-4 hours, it is worth seeing other St. Louis attractions. The city has exciting architecture, but it is not big. Therefore, the best way is to go on this 75-minute Guided City Trolley Tour. Thanks to this, you will see all the highlights of St. Louis. See the Anheuser Busch brewery, Busch Stadium (home of the St. Louis Cardinals), the old St Louis Union Station, the Old Cathedral and the newer Cathedral Basilica, the Old Courthouse, Millionaire’s Row, Forest Park (with the Zoo), Science Center and Museums, Blueberry Hill with the St Louis Walk of Fame, Laclede’s Landing, and the sights and sounds of Downtown St Louis. And most importantly, the price of this tour is affordable, so it will not break your holiday budget.
Visit the Old Cathedral
The oldest building in St. Louis is the nearby Gateway Arch. The Basilica of Saint Louis, King, also known as the Old Cathedral, dates to 1834, and records show that its history goes back to 1734, when a one-room log cabin was built on this property.
This cathedral also includes a museum that is open to the public. The Old Cathedral is the first Roman Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi and is the oldest surviving building on the waterfront and remains an active parish.
Where to stay when visiting Gateway Arch National Park?
We suggest staying overnight in St. Louis downtown. Thanks to this, you will have the opportunity to see the Gateway Arch in illuminated nighttime. Other buildings are also beautifully lit. Enter your travel dates to the Deals Finder below, and you will find the best accommodation offers.
Where to eat when visiting Gateway Arch National Park?
In St. Louis, you’ll find some great bars and restaurants. We can recommend the best oysters in this city. Visit Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis. We ate perfect oysters in St. Louis, almost as delicious as in Homer, Alaska. In addition to oysters, there are other great dishes on the menu, like chowder, Creole cuisine, burgers, and more. For a moment, you can feel like you are in New Orleans. The bar has a great atmosphere and lives music concerts, so check their website.