Midwest Road Trips

Top 7 Things to Do at the Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch in St. Louis
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis from the Mississippi River. Credit: Catherine Parker

Gateway Arch National Park

In the 19th century, St. Louis was the last stop before heading to the sparsely populated west. As thousands headed west hoping for free land and more opportunity, St. Louis was the gateway to the feeling and the West. Designed by Eero Saarinen, this monument represents the inspirational and transcendent vision of Thomas Jefferson as he built a unified continental nation. Here are the top things to do at the Gateway Arch National Park.

Top Things to Do at the Gateway Arch National Park

Visit the Gateway Arch Museum
Learn about the Arch’s Designers and Construction
Take a Ride to the Top
Walk Around the Gateway Grounds
Watch the Movie 
Ride the Tom Sawyer
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge

Gateway Arch at a Glance

Year Established: 1906

Located: St. Louis, Missouri

Size: nearly 91acres

Top Features: The Stainless Steel Arch Sculpture


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Legs and arch's shadow
The legs and arch’s shadow from the top. Credit: Catherine Parker

Why Visit the Gateway Arch

Located on 91 acres overlooking the Mississippi River, the glistening arch dominates the St. Louis skyline. Although it opened nearly 60 years ago, this monument feels as modern as ever. I have visited St. Louis and Gateway Arch several times and I never tire of the sight.

Perched on the Mississippi River, framing the western horizon, I like to learn about the emigrants and pioneers who took a risk and moved west to settle. A view from the top is another must for any trip. To really get a scale of the arch, you must stand close to it.

Gateway Arch museum
The Gateway Arch features an underground museum. Credit: Catherine Parker

Visit the Gateway Arch Visitor Center and Museum

This is the place to start when visiting Gateway Arch National Park. The visitor center is under the arch’s legs and offers six interpretive displays.

The Gateway Arch Museum is organized chronologically and offers a history of the arch. It also includes an area on Colonial St. Louis after its founding in 1764.

Visitors then learn about Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition. St. Louis offered the last stop for supplies for the explorers.

St. Louis grew as trade along the Mississippi River increased. Finally, the museum discusses the Gateway Arch and its construction.

Ranger Program at the Gateway Arch
During my visit, I attended a Ranger Program to learn more about the arch. Credit: Catherine Parker

Learn about its Iconic Design and its Designers

As early as 1933, civil leaders wanted to build a monument to commemorate the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion. Once started, this project would take decades to complete.

A design competition for the monument opened in the late 1940s, and hundreds submitted designs. In February 1948, Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen won the competition.

The Arch is 630 feet (192 meters) tall, and 630 feet is also the distance from leg to leg at ground level. Each leg has 1076 steps, used by staff and in case of an emergency.

The original tram engineer was Dick Bowser. It has been renovated. However, each tram moves through the legs to reach a viewing platform at the top.

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Gateway Arch viewing platform
This is the viewing platform from the top of the arch. Credit: Catherine Parker

Ride to the Top of the Arch

I recommend taking the tram to the top for an unbelievable view. I have done this several times, and my kids enjoyed the trip, too.

We had five people in our tram, and it didn’t feel crowded, but three with kids 12 and younger. If you are over 6-foot, you will feel a little cramped.

At the top, the viewing platform isn’t large, though I didn’t feel claustrophobic, and I didn’t feel it moving. I don’t have an overwhelming fear of heights. However, the view wowed me, so that wasn’t an issue.

The tram includes eight capsules, each five-foot diameter, with seating for five. The viewing area holds up to 160 people. However, visitors only get 7 to 9 minutes at the top. Each group leaves when a new tram arrives.

There are no facilities at the top of the Arch, including restrooms. Please allow 45 – 60 minutes for your tram ride to the top. Due to the arch’s age, the viewing platform is not accessible and strollers are not allowed.

To ride to the top, reserve tram tickets in advance. Adult tickets start at $17 for adults on weekdays, and kids are $13. Weekend (peak) adult admission is $19 and $15.

Walk through the Gateway Arch National Park

The Gateway Arch sits on 91 arches, and 30 acres of that space house the Old Courthouse (closed for renovation), Luther Ely Smith Square, and some of the surrounding streets (managed as easements).

Visitors to Gateway Arch National Park will find five miles of walking trails. Some go through the landscaped gardens, and others venture along the Mississippi River. Under the arch is a grass lawn; this is a good space to sit and enjoy the outdoors.

The Gateway Arch National Park offers lots of trees. During my visits, I have walked down to the Mississippi River. Access it via the steps.

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Watch the Movie

While exploring the museum, buy a ticket for the 35-minute movie, Monument to the Dream. This documentary dives into Eero Saarine’s design and the team that made it a reality.

If virtual reality sounds like more fun, then don a 3D headset and be transported. The experience is set along the St. Louis riverfront in 1855.

The documentary for adults (16+) is $7 and kids (3-15): are $3. Virtual reality experience for adults (16+) is $8, and for kids (3-15) is $5. It’s not recommended for those younger than 3.

"Tom Sawyer" riverboat
The “Tom Sawyer” riverboat takes one-hour cruises several times a day. Credit: Catherine Parker

Ride the Tom Sawyer

Paddling up and down the Mississippi River, the replica 19th-century paddle-wheel riverboat, the Tom Sawyer is an add-on activity while in St. Louis. It was originally brought to St. Louis in 1964 to watch the construction of the arch and it was so popular now it is a must-do.

Each cruise lasts one hour, with specialty cruises and a skyline dinner cruise. The Tom Sawyer departs from  50 S. Leonor K Sullivan Blvd. Adult tickets start at $24, and kids (3-15) start at $14 and babies 2 and younger are free.  Cruises depart at 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 pm, 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7:30 p.m., with seasonal hours.

Kids and Pets at Gateway Arch

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them with after they complete their booklets.

Gateway Arch National Park welcomes pets in its outdoor spaces as long as they follow the principles of the BARK program. The park even hosts events just for its BARK rangers; check out its webpage for more details.

B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash

A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others

R–Respect wildlife

K–Know where you can go

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Where’s Gateway Arch National Park

It is located at 11 North 4th St., St. Louis. The arch and its visitors center are open daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. For the rest of the year, the arch is open open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Gateway Arch grounds are open daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the visitor center is free to enter.



Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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