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 – there are now so many things to do when visiting the gateway arch!
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.
👉 Book your room at the Drury Inn at the Arch. It’s the perfect location and a lovely place to stay!
1. Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
Kids 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!
Almost all US National Parks have this Junior Ranger program, so for families who are committed to visiting as many National Parks as possible, completing these would be a terrific goal to keep the kids engaged on these park trips.
A big thanks to Bi-State Development and Explore St. Louis for sponsoring this trip. All suggestions and opinions are 100% my own.
2. Visit the Old Courthouse
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). The 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, you’ll 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 in our country’s history.
A really fun way to learn more about the courthouse, the Arch, and the surrounding area is a guided walking tour like this highly-rated one – it would be a terrific addition to your Gateway Arch National Park experience.
3. Admire the Luther Ely Smith Square
Once you’ve left the courthouse start heading toward 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 that 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.
4. Don’t miss the museum
Although your kids may be clamoring to go up to 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 the building of 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!
5. Watch the movie
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!
I’ve seen the movie several times and feel like I learn something new and interesting every time I watch it.
👉 Ready to book your getaway to visit the St. Louis Arch? Check out the best rates on the dates you are interested in at the nearby Drury.
6. Head to the top of the Arch
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 Stl Louis Arch admission 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.
7. Check out the Riverboats at the Gateway Arch
Looking for more fun things to do around the Saint Louis Arch to finish out your day? Right across the street is a unique opportunity for a lunch or dinner riverboat cruise.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch offer sightseeing tours and special events (Sunday Brunch, Lunch, and a Blues cruise to name a few) on the Mississippi River. 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.
👉 A fun way to get an overview of St. Louis and everything the city has to offer is this highly-rated trolley tour – you’ll get to see the highlights, learn some history and end with recommendations for plenty of fun things to do!
8. Explore the nearby Citygarden
Another great 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.
As a huge fan of sculptures and outdoor art, I really enjoyed this little oasis in the middle of the city. And for older kids who love to take pictures for Instagram, it is the perfect spot.
🌟 Insider tip: Gateway Arch 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.
FAQs about Gateway Arch National Park
Before your visit to the Gateway Arch National Park, be sure you have all your questions answered.
How long do people stay at Gateway Arch National Park?
If you are just going to the top of the Arch (which would be a mistake as the museum is wonderful), the Gateway Arch National Park Experience should take about 45 – 60 minutes. However, if you watch the documentary and spend time in the museum, you can easily spend several hours – I’d allow for half a day to be safe.
What time of day is best to visit Gateway Arch National Park?
This one is a personal preference. Some people enjoy visiting the Arch at sunset as the views from the top are gorgeous. I prefer to visit as soon as it opens in the morning as it is less crowded.
How long is the tram ride to the top of the Arch?
Once you enter your tram car, your ride will be about 3-4 minutes to the top.
How much does it cost to ride to the top of the Gateway Arch?
The museum at the Gateway Arch is free, but there is a fee to ride to the top of the arch and see the documentary.
Is the Gateway Arch tram air-conditioned?
Yes, the tram cars to get to the top of the Arch do have air conditioning – which is quite welcome on hot summer days!
Is there a restaurant at the top of the Gateway Arch?
There is not a restaurant at the top of the arch – once you get up there you’ll understand why – there isn’t much space! However, there is a restaurant in the lobby that serves all kinds of food.
Do you have to pay for parking at the Gateway Arch?
Parking can be challenging, but the suggested lot is the Stadium East parking garage. There is currently a special rate of $9 for 5 hours, but that won’t be in effect on Cardinals game days or if other events are going on.
I recommend staying at a nearby hotel (such as my favorite choice, the Drury Inn at the Arch) and walking to the Arch.
Conclusion: Things to do at Gateway Arch National Park
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.
Be sure you give yourself enough time to thoroughly enjoy your visit, experience the museum, nearby attractions, and the arch itself and you’ll end up with a terrific day of memories just like I did.
🌟 Have a few more days in the area? Set one aside for some 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 St Louis Arch Museum hours and stl arch admission pricing.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch, 50 S. Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard; (877) 982-1410; Prices vary based upon the type of cruise and date, check the website for options.
Citygarden, 800 Market Street; Free admission, open sunrise to 10 PM