Look Up and Be Inspired – that’s the motto of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation! When passing through the city of St. Louis, Missouri, as you get closer to crossing the Mississippi River, there is a globally recognized landmark you will not miss – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Arch. Standing tall along the riverfront, over 2.5 million people visit the Gateway Arch National Park each year.
The Gateway Arch National Park is situated right on the riverfront, just steps from downtown St. Louis. The arch and the location was chosen to construct this national historic site holds much symbolism of many things to the St. Louis area.
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Things To Do (Not to miss!) While You Are There
I recently visited the Gateway National Park with my family of 5 with kids ranging from 10 to 3 years old. I have the scoop to help make your visit to the arch as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Visit The Arch
The Gateway Arch – also known as the Gateway To The West – stands proudly at 630 feet straight into the sky. It’s a breathtaking monument, and the kids loved taking pictures in the grassy area as you walk toward the entrance.
We entered the Gateway Arch Visitor Center and Museum using the west entrance. Once inside, in the main lobby, there is a replica tram car of the tram that will take you to the top. You will have the chance for everyone to gather inside, choose their seat, and get comfortable with the seating.
The tram cars hold 5 people, so my family was lucky that we could all sit comfortably in one, but if you are a smaller group, just be aware that they may put another smaller group in the tram with you.
Once settled inside your tram car, hold on for a ride to the top of the arch. The trip up took around 4 minutes, and once the doors open, you’re ready to head up to the tip-top of the arch to explore.
Looking out the windows of the arch, you will see the bank of the Mississippi River from one side and the cityscape of St. Louis from the other side.
My son enjoyed seeing the St. Louis Cardinals baseball stadium from the top! You’re free to take pictures and enjoy the view until your tour guide lets you know it’s time to head back down.
Once your visit is over, you will simply board the same tram car you came up on and begin your descent to the bottom. The ride to the bottom lasted only about 3 minutes and seemed a little faster. The kids said it felt more like a thrill ride when coming back down!
Visit The Museum
While visiting the Gateway Arch National Park, you will want to be sure to spend some time exploring the huge Museum of Westward Expansion located at the arch. Here you will learn details about the arch and the architect, Eero Saarinen that helped the dream of the arch turn into a reality.
You will learn all about the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Dred Scott case, the construction of the arch, the St. Louis Old Courthouse, St. Louis city, the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson and the expansion of the United States, and more when visiting the exhibits at the museum.
The #1 tip I have to offer is to plan your parking situation ahead of time – especially if the St. Louis Cardinals are in town! There are many parking locations in the downtown area, but unless you want to keep driving around until you find an empty parking spot, reserve your parking online.
We chose the Stadium East Parking Garage, which was the perfect location for parking – we felt the area was very safe and secure. The parking fee was reasonable, only $9 for the first 5 hours.
We decided to stay longer than 5 hours, which will just add the fee to your ticket when you leave. There is nothing extra that you need to do. So easy and convenient, which is not always the experience when parking in large cities.
Tickets to take the tram to the top of the arch sells out regularly, and you don’t want to miss your chance when you’re in town visiting. Purchase your tickets online at the Gateway Arch National Park Service NPS website, and choose your timeslot.
For us, the only time slot available was 4 PM. We made it work great by planning to explore the museum afterward during our trip to the top. We would have preferred an earlier timeslot, although if we had explored the museum first, I feel that I may have had a nervous crowd who wouldn’t take the ride to the top of the arch. So get those tickets and hop on the tram!
When To Visit – Time of Year
The Gateway Arch National Park is open year-round, only closing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. When planning your visit to see the Gateway Arch National Park, remember the weather. You will want to visit on a clear day to have the best view when you’re at the top!
We highly recommend visiting during late fall through early spring if you want to skip the lines. If you stop by during the summer, book your tickets for the Gateway Arch National Park tram in advance.
When to Visit – Time of Day
The Gateway Arch National Park District (the grounds outside surrounding the arch) is open from 5:00 AM–11:00 PM year-round.
The Gateway Arch National Park (inside visiting area – museum, visitor center, and the tram to ride to the top of the arch) operates on two schedules.
Summer Hours (Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend): 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Winter Hours (from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day): 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
The primary viewing time is during Summer Hours. The weather seems clearer, and you can see further distances up in the arch. Keep in mind that the last tram leaves one hour prior to closing.
Tips on Bringing Kids
The Visitor Center and Museum are all stroller-friendly and handicapped-accessible. There are several benches if you need to take a break to feed the baby. If you choose to head to the top of the arch, you will not be able to take your stroller, but it isn’t needed since the area isn’t huge.
Sip Some Lemonade
I say this with experience, don’t miss out on Bill’s Lemonade Stand, which is right outside the Gateway National Park. He serves up fresh-squeezed lemonade, and we missed it.
We stayed in the museum too long, and the lemonade stand was closed by the time we left. If the lemonade stand is open when you visit, grab a lemonade! Visitors across the US have enjoyed Bill’s world-famous lemonade at fairs, festivals, and venues for over 70 years!
Where To Eat
Stop by the Paddlewheel Cafe on the Riverboat Dock for a quick lunch or snack. They have something for everyone, including the kiddos. You can take in the views of the Mississippi River and the St. Louis skyline while enjoying a cool, crisp salad or wrap. Also on their menu are hamburgers, chicken tenders, pulled pork sandwiches, nachos, and even pretzels.
If you’re looking for a sweet treat, they have you covered. Paddlewheel Cafe serves chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sandwiches, and cups of ice cream to enjoy on a hot summer day.
Where To Stay
You can relax in the downtown loft before heading out for a walk to all of the downtown attractions, such as the Busch Stadium, Aquarium, and the City Museum. The loft is kid-friendly, and with 2 bedrooms, there will be plenty of room for your family.
Urban Three-Story Townhouse in Soulard
You will enjoy staying in this urban 3-story townhouse in Downtown St. Louis. There is plenty of room for the family to spread out and relax, and the townhouse is only half a mile from the Gateway Arch National Park.
Drury Plaza St. Louis Arch
The Drury Plaza St. Louis Arch is located in downtown St. Louis and is less than a 5-minute walk to the Gateway Arch National Park. You will enjoy spacious accommodations, an indoor/outdoor pool to relax in, and a free hot breakfast.
Hampton Inn St. Louis – At The Arch
Hampton Inn St. Louis – At The Arch is within walking distance of the national landmark. The hotel offers contemporary accommodations and an on-site restaurant. Also included are an indoor swimming pool, free wifi, and free breakfast for all guests.
Although there is no camping on-site at the park, there are camping opportunities around the area.
Cahokia RV Parque
This cute RV park, Cahokia RV Parque, is close to downtown and offers full hookup spots. They’re also pet-friendly if you’re traveling with your furry friend.
St. Louis N.E./ I-270/ Granite City KOA
This campground is the closest KOA near St. Louis attractions, only 12 miles from downtown. While at the campground, you will enjoy the swimming pool and playground, and the kids will love the jumping pillow. There are no campfires allowed at this location due to county ordinances.
Representing so much national history of the United States, the Gateway Arch National Park is worth visiting. We set aside some time to not only hop on the tram for a ride to the top but also to explore the new museum under the arch covering 201 years of history of the westward expansion of St. Louis.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Gateway Arch, check out the documentary “Monument to the Dream.”
More St. Louis Family Fun
See the popular local St Louis sites and learn their history on this 75-minute Guided Trolley Tour.
No trip to St Louis is complete without a visit to the City Museum. Get your tickets to this iconic urban playground here.
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