A big thanks to Bi-State Development and Explore St. Louis for sponsoring this trip. All suggestions and opinions are 100% my own.
If you’ve ever driven by St. Louis, you’ve seen the Gateway Arch National Park. It’s America’s tallest man-made monument, so you really can’t miss it. It was built between 1963 and 1965 and is often referred to as the Gateway to the West. Although I’ve visited a few times in the past, my recent trip showed me how much this area has changed – for the better!
You might not realize it, but the Gateway Arch is one of our National Parks. It’s considered an urban National Park – and thanks to that designation, there are extra resources and education that a state or local park might not receive. For example, if you have kids they can earn a Junior Ranger badge for visiting and filling out activities in the Junior Ranger Activity Book. These Junior Ranger programs are the perfect way to help your kids learn a little something while they are having fun. Heck, I think they are pretty fun myself!
Start your day across the street from the Gateway Arch National Park at the Old Courthouse. Try to time your visit to coincide with one of the Ranger-led talks (check the website for times) These Park Rangers really know their history and make the site so much more interesting. In addition to viewing the beautiful building (just look at that ceiling in the picture below), you’ll get a good feel for the history of St. Louis, learn a little about Lewis & Clark AND learn quite a bit about the Dred Scott case which was one of the most publicized suits for freedom trial of its time. Currently, there is a very well-done exhibit showcasing this particular trial as well as education on this important time of our countries history.
Once you’ve left the courthouse start heading towards the Arch. In 2018, the National Parks department completely re-did the entrance to the Arch as well as the museum inside. Instead of entering one of the legs, you’ll follow a path through Luther Ely Smith Square, which is a beautifully landscaped garden to a new light-filled entrance with a fun water feature right outside. Upon entering the building, you will need to go through a metal detector before you head down to the museum to start your Arch Experience, so be prepared for that.
Insider tip: take the stairs instead of the elevator and check out a very cool mezzanine which showcases the largest terrazzo map in the United States. Feel free to walk around on it and take pictures – it’s fun to try to locate your home state.
Although your kids may be clamoring to go up in the Arch, don’t miss the museum. It is free, very interactive and super interesting. To “do it correctly” you’ll want to zig-zag back and forth between the exhibits (check out the dates on the columns to help you navigate). This museum features six exhibit galleries covering 201 years of history from the founding of St. Louis to Building the Arch. Some favorites include two beautiful murals by Michael Haines and the replica of the St. Louis Levee in 1852.
Insider tip: Ever smelled “sickness?” Don’t miss the smelling jars in the Riverfront Era, they aren’t labeled, but lift the lids and experience for yourself the smells of the time period – kids will especially love this one!
Done with the museum? There are two more areas to check out before you leave the grounds – the documentary movie showcasing the building of the Arch and going to the top of the Arch itself. The movie is pretty engrossing – building the arch took several years and was truly an architectural feat. I was pretty amazed at the process and impressed with the men building it – I would certainly never work 600+ feet in the air!
Getting to the top of the Arch will take you about 30 – 60 minutes. The cars to get to the top are very small (five people per car are the max and it’s a pretty tight fit) and the ride itself is 4 minutes to the top and 3 minutes down. It’s definitely a unique experience. Once you are at the top you are welcome to look around for as long as you’d like – the views are pretty incredible.
Insider tip: Buy your tickets ahead of your visit online. They often sell out, especially during traditional travel times such as summer or school holidays. Going in the morning is also smart as it gets very busy by late afternoon.
Looking for more fun things to do around the Arch to finish out your day? Right across the street is a unique opportunity for lunch or dinner. Riverboats at the Gateway Arch offers sightseeing tours and special events (Sunday Brunch, Lunch and a Blues cruise to name a few). Even if you don’t book a ticket to go out on the boat, you can enjoy a light lunch dockside with a gorgeous view of the Arch.
Another fun option is a short walk from the Courthouse. Citygarden is an urban garden with unique statues, fountains and a play area. It would be a lovely place to stop for a picnic, wander around and just soak up the city vibe.
Insider tip: Parking can be challenging as there isn’t a dedicated lot for the Arch. If you go to their website there is a link to a number of nearby garages. If you plan on staying overnight, I would highly recommend the Drury Inn & Suites. The location is perfect – a few feet away from the courthouse, you can park your car in their garage, and they offer a delicious breakfast and daily substantial happy hour.
Next time you visit St. Louis, set aside a day for your own Gateway Arch National Park Experience – there is truly nowhere else like it.
Have a few more days in the area? Set one aside for Blues & BBQ, we always like variety on our trips with a mix of history and fun!
The Old Courthouse, 11 N. 4th St., admission is free, check the website for hours and program times.
Gateway Arch, Museum is free, but there is an admission fee for the documentary and ride to the top, check the website for hours and pricing.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch, 50 S. Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard; (877) 982-1410; Prices vary based upon type of cruise and date, check the website for options.
Citygarden, 800 Market Street; Free admission, open sunrise to 10 PM
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