“The St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park is the only park located in an urban area. The Gateway National Park is the smallest National Park. Don’t let its size stop you from visiting; this National Park offers something for everyone to enjoy.”
Is Gary is the only one who did not know you could ride to the top of the Gateway Arch? Gary had seen the Arch from a distance when he drove through St. Louis but was surprised when I told him that you could take a “tram” or tuna can, as I describe it, up to the top of this New National Park. That is if you can handle the ride.
Gary and I continuously search online and talk to others for suggestions on trips and destinations. One of those conversations led me to think back on a previous vacation, more than 15 years ago, where I toured the St. Louis Gateway Arch or, at that time as it was known, The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
I shared with Gary the details of the work vacation I had taken to St. Louis years earlier, mentioning that you can travel to the top of the Arch. He was surprised—all the more reason to plan a trip to St Louis Gateway Arch National Park.
St Louis is only a 7-hour drive from our home in Wisconsin. Making it the perfect driving distance for a long romantic weekend. Gary was up for the adventure, and I was looking forward to exploring more of St. Louis and showing him the Gateway Arch National Park.
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St. Louis Gateway Arch History
The idea for the Arch was first envisioned in 1933 to honor Thomas Jefferson (for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803) and bring new life to St. Louis’ waterfront. City officials liked the idea, and in 1947, a nationwide competition was held to find a design for the monument.
In 1954 Dwight Eisenhower signed the order for the construction of the monument. With construction beginning in 1959. The landmark would be built as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening up the west, the pioneers who shaped history, and Dred Scott, who sued for his freedom at the Old Courthouse, located in the same area where the Arch would be built.
More than 40 city blocks were demolished to build the Jefferson Memorial. This demolition was an extreme commitment by the city taking out riverside blocks of warehouses and businesses. An undertaking that some locals disapproved of. The project was estimated to cost 30 million dollars. Locals thought the city should use the money for more practical matters. The city called upon the government to help with three-quarters of the price tag.
The massive stainless steel Arch known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was completed in 1963. This National symbol at 630 feet above the river is the tallest structure in St. Louis. The Arch is an iconic symbol of the U.S. that embodies the adventurous spirit of America.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the visitor center and the tram system to take visitors to the top of the Arch was completed and opened to the public.
Almost a decade later, the Museum of Westward Expansion opened with exhibits about St Louis’ role in the westward expansion.
Over the years, the Arch has gone through many improvements. The most significant was at the cost of 380 million dollars. This four-year project was completed in late 2017 early 2018. It aimed to beautify the city of St. Louis and update one of our nation’s most recognizable monuments.
Nothing was updated to the Arch itself or how visitors ride to the top viewing platform. You don’t mess with a masterpiece. Upgrades included the park and land around the monument and the underground museum and visitor center.
Planning your Visit to the St. Louis Gateway Arch
St. Louis is a city with many amazing things to see and do. We gave ourselves one entire day to visit the Gateway Arch National Park. With all of the recent additions, we wanted to take in all of the improvements fully.
Available activities at the Gateway Arch National Park include:
- Tram Ride to the top of the Arch
- Documentary movie
- Museum of Westward Expansion
- Shopping at The Arch Store
- Riverboat Cruise
- Helicopter Ride
- Old Courthouse
If you have additional time on your hand and want to experience more of St. Louis. Check out these Fun Things to do In St. Louis. With these 30 places to visit that are great for couples or families, you will get a natural feel for St. Louis.
Visiting the Gateway Arch National Park
Our visit to the Gateway Arch started by taking the Metro from our hotel to the park. The one thing the Gateway Arch National Park is lacking is parking. There is some street metered parking and some nearby parking lots, but the National Park has no parking of its own.
The Metro dropped us off at one end of the park, giving us plenty of time to hold hands and enjoy the walk to the entrance of the Gateway Arch. It was just a short walk, and we enjoyed taking in the breathtaking view of the new landscape throughout the National Park.
Everything was so different since my visit years ago. The way visitors experience the Gateway Arch, and the surrounding park has been beautifully transformed.
A 380 million dollar renovation project made the upgrades possible. Updates that have taken place include adding 46,000 square feet of museum space at the base of the Arch, which gives visitors a more in-depth look at St. Louis’ history and the process of building the Arch. The added space has allowed the museum to add numerous new displays highlighting the pioneers and native Americans that helped shape the west.
The Arch’s park is now manicured and gorgeous with water fountains for drinking and landscaped gardens. This National Park is the smallest of all the National Parks and the only park in an urban setting, but that’s what makes it beautiful and welcoming.
In addition to the new park, visitors have been given a new entrance to the Gateway Arch that is more welcoming.
After entering, you will first go through airport-type security. From there, you first enter the all-new Museum of Westward Expansion. There is no cost to visit the museum, but you need to go through the security gates.
(I thought I’d take a picture of security to give you an idea of what to expect, only to find out it is not allowed. I may have been talked to sternly about it.) Whoops!
I did manage to take a picture of this area just inside the doors before reaching security. You can see it has the airport feel going on.
A snack bar and a gift shop were added to the museum area for visitors at the Gateway Arch to enjoy.
Riding to the Top on the Gateway Arch Tram
Riding to the top of the Gateway Arch is scary and exciting. Once our tickets were purchased, we were given a number and had to stand by the coordinating door. While we waited, we viewed a movie about the history of the westward expansion and the Mississippi River. When it’s our turn, the doors open, and visitors that have come back down depart, and it’s our turn to start that climb to the top.
The Arch has eight individual tram cars that bring visitors to the top of the 630-foot structure. Each tram car has five individual seats. It’s a tight squeeze, especially if you carry any photo equipment with you.
The trams that transport you to the top are a bit claustrophobic, or as Gary puts it, “conveniently cozy” (with a mischievous smile and a wink), but well worth the venture. The door has a small window, and through it many times, you can see flights of stairs outside the windows. I kept picturing someone having to use all those stairs in an emergency. That picture makes that tiny “cozy” tram seem very appealing.
Your tickets to ride the tram are timed. Every effort is taken to ensure that it is not too crowded at the top. You can stay at the top as long as you like. They want everyone to be able to enjoy the view.
Our climb to the top was not as bad as expected. It was a bit clanky, and it did remind me of a Ferris wheel ride without the view. The clanking you feel during the ride is the tram taking time to readjust and reposition itself upright. If it did not readjust along the way, you would be lying down by the time you reached the top.
The Gateway Arch tram is the only elevator that can adjust to the curve of a structure. It was designed and built specifically for the Gateway Arch.
Again please keep in mind the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch may not be fully accessible to visitors with mobility impairments. As part of the last upgrade, a platform replica at the top of the Arch was built and placed in the museum area. Thanks to a video at the top of the Arch, those with mobility issues can experience the live view from the top through the windows.
View From the Top
Although you get a great view of downtown St. Louis from one side and Illinois across the Mississippi River from the other side, the windows at the top are small (you can see them in the photo above), and you have to lean over across a counter to get a good view. Most stay at the top for about 15 minutes.
The photo was our view from the top of the Gateway Arch. The circle is the entrance to the National Park, just beyond that is the Old Courthouse. It was a beautiful day, and I loved seeing the contrast of the green grass against the building from up above.
For more of our National Park Adventures, check out
Our romantic trip to, and our Fun Things to do in Waco, Texas, Mammoth National Park
St. Louis Arch Tickets and Prices
You can purchase tickets online before your visit, and we encourage you to do so. Tickets for Gateway Arch attractions frequently sell out. Tram tickets are timed, planning is necessary to time things right.
All St. Louis Gateway Arch visitors must pass through an airport-style security checkpoint for everyone’s safety. Please allow up to 30 minutes to go through security on a busy day.
Keep in mind the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch may not be fully accessible to visitors with mobility impairments. Don’t let that stop you from visiting the arch. There is a lot to do without the tram ride to the top of the Arch.
Tickets can be purchased individually or as combo packages. At the time of writing, adult ticket prices are as listed but subject to change.
*Tran Tickets ~ $16
*Documentary Tickets ~ $7
*Riverboat Cruise Tickets ~ $22 – $55 depending on your choice of activities
*Combination Tickets ~ $20 – $40 Depending on your choice of activities
*The Old Courthouse ~ Free
You can use this link to book your advanced tickets online – Buy St. Louis Arch tickets
St. Louis Gateway Arch and Park Hours
The park grounds are open for visitors from 5 am until 11 pm year-round.
The Arch is open with Summer hours 8 am – 10 pm and Winter hours 9 am – 6 pm. Keep in mind that the last tram for the day leaves 1 hour before closing.
The Old Courthouse hosts a variety of free activities such as daily ranger-led talks, exhibit galleries, and self-guided tours of the restored courtrooms. You can watch a film produced by the History Channel about Dred and Harriet Scott’s quest for freedom at The Old Courthouse.
The Old Courthouse is open 8:30 – 4:30 daily.
Cruise hours vary. Contact them for daily times.
Check out the St Louis Arch hours and events to learn about upcoming activities and programs.
Always call or check online for current times.
Fun Facts about the Gateway Arch
*It is 630 feet to the top of the Gateway Arch, more than the height of 2 Statues of Liberty. The Arch is as tall as it is wide.
* For the construction of the Arch, stainless-steel pieces were shipped to St. Louis from Pennsylvania and were assembled on site. Welders had to work extraordinarily carefully to ensure their measurements were precise—the margin of error allowed was less than half a millimeter.
*The Arch’s two legs were built separately, and if the measurements were off by as little as 1/64th of an inch, they would not have joined at the top.
* The Arch is the tallest memorial in the United States and the tallest stainless steel monument globally.
* The tram takes only four minutes to get to the top and three minutes to travel from the top to the bottom.
* Due to the curved shape of the arch, a regular elevator couldn’t bring visitors from the base to the top. Dick Bowser, a college dropout whose family was in the elevator business, was asked to design the system in just two weeks. His solution was a tram that’s part elevator and part Ferris wheel—it’s the same system that still lifts visitors to the top of the Arch today.
* Presidents cannot visit the Arch or ride the tram to the top. The secret service has forbidden it because of the tightly confined space.
* President Dwight Eisenhower is the only president to have ever been to the top of the Arch. In 1967 at the age of 77, Eisenhower visited St. Louis to deliver a speech and insisted he visit the Arch. He took his trip to the top of the Arch while the Arch was not open to the public.
• In 1960, the construction cost of the Arch was 13 million dollars, and the last completed renovations totaled 380 million dollars.
The Old Courthouse
This photo is our view of The Old Courthouse from the top of the Gateway Arch. It is the oldest structure in St Louis. The gorgeously restored building is worth a visit just for the historic architecture. Most important, the courthouse is where Dred Scott sued for his and his wife’s freedom. Although the Scott family did not win their case for freedom, their courage in filing the case laid the foundation for the Civil War and freedom for all Americans.
The Old Courthouse also has restored courtrooms and gallery exhibits about the Dred Scott trials, westward expansion, and early St. Louis.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch
You could spend the entire day at the Gateway Arch National Park. You can enjoy some of the best views of the Gateway Arch by enjoying a riverboat cruise.
The one-hour narrated riverboat cruise explores the muddy Mississippi and gives you a view of the Gateway Arch that can only be seen from the water.
Whether you are looking for a relaxing tour, an educational tour, or are in the mood for a romantic dinner, they have cruises to suit your interest.
Riverboat cruises operate from March through November.
Museum of Westward Expansion
The museum at the Gateway Arch traces the history of explorers, pioneers, and Native Americans who made the west possible. It features 200+ years of history and includes six main exhibit areas.
The exhibits in the museum explained the westward expansion of the United States, showcasing St. Louis’ role. This celebration of American history covers topics such as Jefferson’s vision, the Riverfront Era, the New Frontier, and the building of the Jefferson Memorial – Now known as the Gateway Arch.
Gateway Arch becomes a National Park
On February 22, 2018, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial became Gateway National Park. The Arch and the Old Courthouse are included in the Gateway Arch National Park.
Hotels near the Gateway Arch
There are several hotels near Gateway Arch National Park. Many of them are within walking distance. We chose to stay at St. Louis Union Station, a historic hotel located in a former railway terminal. It’s a castle-style building that overlooks a grand fountain. This refined hotel in a former railway terminal is less than 3 miles from the Gateway Arch.
At the time of publishing, rates average $110 and up depending on your choice of a standard room or a historic room.
If you are looking to visit St. Louis you can book your hotel room right here online. St. Louis has many great options.
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark is a modern high-rise hotel in downtown St. Louis, a 14-minute walk to the Gateway Arch. A rooftop bar featuring fire pits, panoramic city views, and live D.J.s during weekends. There is an indoor pool, fitness center, and rooms with arch and ballpark views.
Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis At The Arch is across the street from the Old Courthouse. This stately hotel is 0.4 miles from the Gateway Arch monument. With modest rooms in an elegant property with an indoor pool & complimentary hot breakfast.
Hampton Inn St. Louis-Downtown is a contemporary hotel with complimentary hot breakfast & Wi-Fi, plus an Irish pub/restaurant & indoor pool. This straightforward hotel is a 9-minute walk from the Gateway Arch.
To see our blog post about our stay at the Historic Union Station, check out St. Louis Union Station Hotel Feature and get a glimpse at what it’s like to stay at such a unique hotel.
The all-new Union Station Aquarium and family entertainment area is adjacent to the St Louis Union Station Hotel. This is a fantastic place for fun. Check out our post with Things to do at Union Station Aquarium, St. Louis, Missouri.
Restaurant near the Gateway Arch
After a long day at the Arch, Gary and I headed back to Union Station to relax. Having taken the Metro from Union Station to the Gateway Arch, we returned the same way and boarded just ahead of the mobs of Busch Stadium fans soon to be filling the Metro.
We arrived in the back of Union Station, to a large parking lot, and all the construction for the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. The aquarium will be a wonderful addition to Union Station and the downtown.
Landry’s Seafood House was in the middle of all the construction.
Landry’s shared with us how they have been affected by the construction and the challenges of the lengthy construction project. A majority of Landry’s patrons come from Union Station and local foot traffic. The easy access from the sidewalk and across the street was now unavailable.
Still, Landry’s was very busy, which told us this was a place we needed to try.
Any restaurant that can weather two years of construction deserves to be patronized. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. The view was great, and the food was fantastic.
We enjoyed watching the deck-side Fire and Light Show put on by Union Station Hotel during dinner. Wow! Over 5000 choreographed lights and leaping flames set to the rhythms of popular music.
After dinner, it was fun to stop and feed the Koi that we enjoyed watching deck-side during dinner.
It is was worth the extra effort it takes to go and eat at Landry’s Seafood House.
Gateway Arch National Park Summary
We had a fantastic time exploring St. Louis Gateway Arch, strolling through the newly renovated park, taking the tram to the top of the Arch, enjoying a Riverfront Cruise, and finally relaxing back at our hotel.
The Arch is such an amazing structure, a trip to St. Louis isn’t complete without an up-close look at the Arch. With its new title of a National Park, it’s even more so.
St. Louis is a city filled with many things for couples, families, and kids of all ages. With so many options, it was hard for us to make a list of our top recommendations. We did our best. You’ll want to see our list of Top 21 Things to do in St. Louis. Many of the activities on the list are free.
Strolling the waterfront holding hands was a romantic way to explore St. Louis. We enjoyed taking the tram together to the top of the Arch, arms around each other, holding hands, kissing, and together looking down on the city. What a perfect day! Even a little rain did not stop us. This can be an entire day’s adventure with 11 acres of parkland and 5 miles of walking and biking paths.
Not headed to St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park yet? Pin this guide for future use.
There are almost 2600 historic landmarks in the United States, each playing a significant role in U.S. history. We’d love to hear about your experience visiting a historical landmark or National Park. We may need to put it on our list of places to visit.
Note: We were a guest of Explore St. Louis, which covered a portion of our expenses. All opinions are our own and come from our personal experience during our visit.