One of the most iconic symbols in the US is the huge curving expanse of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The 630-foot-high structure is the tallest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere and dominates the city’s skyline. After passing by it numerous times on our RV travels, we were so glad to finally stop for a visit to our nation’s smallest national park.
Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, St. Louis became a major center of trade as well as the gateway to westward expansion in the early 19th century. Gateway Arch National Park is actually located near the starting point of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It was designated a national park in 2018 and commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s pioneering spirit and his vision of a transcontinental United States. Here are some tips for visiting this inspiring park.
Guest Post by Robin Buck
Gateway Arch Museum
Inside the Visitor Center the Gateway Arch Museum has 6 themed exhibits highlighting 200 years of St. Louis history. The galleries feature an array of artifacts and displays about the Native Americans of the region, the Louisiana Purchase, Louis & Clark Expeditions, and life in St. Louis in the 1700s and 1800s. One area has the very interesting story of how the arch was designed and constructed. The museum is free so make sure to allow time to see these well-done exhibits.
Tram Ride to the Top of the Arch
Everyone wants to experience the ride to the top of the arch, so it’s best to reserve your tickets online ahead of time. A money saving option is the tram and movie combo ticket. The 20-minute film called Monument to the Dream is a bit dated but has very interesting original footage from when the arch was constructed in 1963-65.
The entrance for the tram ride looks like a series of elevator doors. Once the doors open, each group of up to 5 people enters a small pod for the 4-minute trip skyward. The unique tram design is part elevator and part Ferris wheel to allow the pods to remain upright as they ascend the 630-foot-high curved arch.
As you step out of the pod you will find yourself on the top of the curved arch. Rectangular windows line each side of the walkway where you can look down to see either St. Louis on the west side or the Mississippi River on the east side. The views are awesome! A knowledgeable park ranger is up there to answer any questions you may have.
Walk the Park Grounds
Gateway Arch National Park consists of 91 acres of land situated right along the mighty Mississippi River. The grounds are very beautiful and, like the arch, are curve inspired. As you stroll through the park you will see that curves define the landscape and can be seen in the paths, retaining walls, and pond edges. Take advantage of some unique angles for taking pictures as you walk under and around the arch itself.
The Old Courthouse is across the greenway from the arch and is the park’s other historic structure. It is most famous as the location where Dred Scott and his wife sued for their freedom from slavery in 1846. The building has a staged courtroom display and a beautiful rotunda with a three-story cast dome that was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Arch Fun Facts
An architectural competition was held to revive the St. Louis waterfront area in 1947. Eero Saarinen’s innovative and graceful design was chosen from 172 entries. However, it took 32 years of planning to work out the actual design plans because the curve was so complicated to calculate. He and his team had to figure out how to build the two sides separately so that they would meet exactly at the top. Oh, and by the way, the structure was too tall to use standard cranes!
The arch is made up of 142 equilateral triangles made of stainless steel. There is concrete inside the arch for the first 300 feet and then the upper half is hollow. The rest of the arch depends on only the pressure between the inner and outer steel sides for support. Built to withstand earthquakes and high winds, the monument was designed to sway up to 18 inches.
A Fun Visit
Any day we can visit a national park is a great day. Gateway Arch National Park is sure to wow you not only with the structure itself, but also with the amazing skill of the designers and the story of its construction. You will also have a renewed sense of St. Louis’ importance and Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the west and expanding our nation. This small park is an easy one day stop. Don’t forget to get your national park passport stamped before you leave!
Robin and her husband, Mike, are Air Force veterans and empty nesters who travel full-time in their Entegra Anthem motorhome. Always ready to explore, they love nature and wildlife, meeting new friends, and discovering America’s many hidden gems. Robin chronicles their adventures and experiences on her travel blog RVing with Robin.