When visiting the Gateway Arch along the St. Louis Riverfront, you might be tempted to keep your eyes toward the sky. The Arch is, after all, an impressive sight towering above the Mississippi River. But don't miss your chance to check out the museum located under the Arch as well. The Museum of Westward Expansion tells the story of Lewis & Clark and other early pioneers who explored the American frontier. The museum is also one of the Top 15 Free Attractions in St. Louis.
IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR 2015-2016: The Museum of Westward Expansion is currently closed for construction.
Location and Hours:
The Museum of Westward Expansion is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a national park which also includes the Arch and the Old Courthouse. The park is located in downtown St. Louis along Memorial Drive between Spruce Street and Washington Avenue. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there are expanded hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.
Exhibits and Artifacts:
The Museum of Westward Expansion has hundreds of exhibits and artifacts depicting the exploration of the American West. You can learn about the Louisiana Purchase and the importance of the Lewis & Clark expedition. See the tools and weapons early explorers used, find out how Native Americans lived, and get a feel for what it was like to be a pioneer setting out in a covered wagon. The exhibits provide a good look at life in the West in the 19th century.
For the Kids:
Many of the museum's exhibits, like the authentic tipi and life-size animals, will likely appeal to children, but there are also special events designed just for them. During the summer, park rangers host free Junior Ranger Experiences on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The programs include activities like games, scavenger hunts, art projects and history lessons. Each session is open to 25 children. You must register at least one week in advance by calling 877-982-1410.
Parking and Construction Concerns:
A major construction project is currently underway on the St. Louis Riverfront. The CityArchRiver project is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2015. That means street closures and restricted access to parts of the Arch grounds for the foreseeable future. The best places to park during construction are at the Arch Parking Garage on Washington Avenue just north of the Arch, or at the Stadium East Garage at 4th and Walnut. When walking from downtown St. Louis to the Arch grounds, Walnut is the only street with pedestrian bridge access. The Chestnut, Market and Pine Street bridges are closed. For more on the latest closures, see the national park website.