Gateway Arch National Park: The Complete Guide

Gateway Arch across the reflection pool
Photo by Mike Kline (notkalvin) / Getty Images

Known mainly as an iconic landmark, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is actually part of a national park. The arch was built to memorialize 19th-century westward expansion, the Louisiana Purchase, and the legendary Dred Scott case. The expedition of Lewis and Clark also began not far from where Gateway Arch National Park (formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) is located.

Today you can see important sites, in addition to the arch, like the Old Courthouse, the Visitor Center, and the Museum at the Gateway Arch. There’s also a store and cafe for souvenirs and snacks. Keep reading this guide to learn about all the must-see spots while visiting Gateway Arch National Park.

Things to Do

The Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse are the main two sites at Gateway Arch National Park. To memorialize the essence of the western pioneers, construction to build a 630-foot stainless steel arch began in 1963 and wrapped up in 1965. Designed to withstand earthquakes and strong winds, the arch is also the tallest monument in the US. The best thing to do at this 90.96-acre park is to ride the egg-shaped tram system to the top of the polished arch. At the top, you can get out and take pictures at the top, and then ride in the pod back down the arch’s leg. Reservations are needed for this 45 to 60-minute experience, which is open each season.

The Museum at the Gateway Arch, located just below the arch, is a must-do activity as well to provide essential context. You’ll learn about St. Louis’ history in the westward expansion through displays, exhibits, talks, and an informative movie. While the tram ride, movie, and riverboat cruise cost an extra fee, admission to the museum is free.

The park film, "Monument to the Dream," is screened in the arch’s visitor center, on the bottom floor. Reservations are needed for this 35-minute film, which operates during each season. Learn about the construction of the arch as well as the westerly expansion.

Be sure to see the Old Courthouse as well, one of the oldest buildings still standing in the city today, and learn about the Dred Scott case, which was held in 1847 and 1850.  Both trials were a were pivotal moments to the anti-slavery movement and the beginning of the Civil War. To learn more about the case, the film "Slavery on Trial: The Dred Scott Decision," is screened for free in the Dred Scott Gallery. Listed in the National Park Services’ National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the courthouse is an important connection to St. Louis’ past.

Downtown St. Louis with the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse on a sunny day.
traveler1116 / Getty Images

Events and Programs

Gateway Arch National Park is unlike any other national park in the entire system, where the primary focus for others is on natural landscapes, hiking, and outdoor experiences. Here, it’s all about education—giving yourself the gift of a historical understanding. Park programming, then, is a key piece of the puzzle.

  • Outdoor Programs: For an in-depth understanding of the park’s history and importance in St. Louis’ role in westward expansion, meet one of the park rangers at the West Entrance Plaza, for a daily walking tour where you’ll see Eads Bridge, the Mississippi River and riverfront, and Paw Paw trees. You’ll also learn about Lewis and Clark’s journey preparations, the Santa Fe Trail, and the establishment of St. Louis.
  • Museum Touch Stations: Throughout the museum, each day, you’ll see park rangers waiting at podiums, ready to discuss St. Louis’ history for a 10-minute talk.
  • Ranger-Led Riverboat Cruises: On weekends, through the end of May, guests can meet at the Riverboats at the Gateway Arch, located below the arch, where a ranger will lead a 60-minute tour on a St. Louis Riverfront Cruise, highlighting the city’s history along the Mississippi River. Expect to pay $21 for adults and $11 for kids, ages 3 to 15.

Where to Stay Nearby

Located in downtown St. Louis, there are plenty of hotels close to Gateway Arch. Well-reviewed and located, here are the best places to rest your head:

  • Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis: This is one of the best family-friendly hotels in the city, hands down. Kids will get to pick out a toy or treat upon arrival and everyone will love the expansive swimming pool, complete with private cabanas, beverage service, and skyline views. Choose from a variety of accommodations, most of which have an unbelievable view of the Gateway Arch and sign up for a spa treatment or indulge in in-room dining.
  • St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton: Located within walking distance to the famous City Museum, this historic hotel is like no other. The Grand Hall, possibly the most fabulous lobby in all of St. Louis, is also home to a lounge that plays a 3D lightshow, telling the story of the resort's history. Dine at the family-friendly 1894 café, grab coffee at the Grand Hall Market, or pause for a bite at the Station Grille or the Train Shed Restaurant. For dessert, pick out candy from the Union Station Soda Fountain, a kid favorite.
  • Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch: A stay at this property will allow you to walk to everything downtown St. Louis has to offer, including Busch Stadium and the Mississippi Riverfront. There’s a steakhouse and sport’s bar on property as well as a Starbucks and a fitness center. The real appeal here, however, is the location near the Gateway Arch.  

How to Get There

Gateway Arch National Park is located along the Mississippi River in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Driving via interstate routes 44, 55, 64, and 70 to reach the park will be your best bet.

Also accessible via public transportation, take St. Louis’ Metrolink Lightrail from any station and exit at 8th and Pine or Laclede’s Landing. From there, you’ll walk about 10 minutes to the memorial.

For more information on how to navigate the Metrolink, check out our guide to public transportation in St. Louis.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Spring and summer are the busiest seasons at the arch. If you can, visit during fall or winter to avoid crowds and lines.
  • Admission to the park costs $3, unless you have an annual America the Beautiful park pass.
  • While multiple accessibility features are present throughout the Old Courthouse, the Gateway Arch complex, and the park grounds, folks with disabilities might find it challenging to reach the top of the Gateway Arch, which is not wheelchair accessible and requires the ability to stand and climb many stairs. The lobby, museum, theater, and museum store, however, are all accessible.
  • Dogs are allowed in the grassy areas of the complex, but not inside the museum or arch.
Article Sources
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  1. National Park Service. "How Tall is it?" May 30, 2018