Many moons ago I visited the St. Louis Gateway Arch with my grandparents. The unique ascent experience stood out to me, even at the age of thirteen. Now, many years later and after graduating with an engineering degree, it’s even more interesting. A summer trip to Missouri with my two sons had us flying into St. Louis, and I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss this American monument that is now the Gateway Arch National Park.

What is the Gateway Arch?

Completed in 1965, the St. Louis Gateway Arch became an iconic piece of the St. Louis skyline. The vision for a memorial commemorating the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent U.S. westward expansion had begun years earlier. Designed by a Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the arch marks the “Gateway to the West” near the beginning of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition.

Although it can appear simple, it is an impressive structure. Standing 630 feet high at its apex, the Gateway Arch dominates the St. Louis skyline. It’s actually the tallest structure in all of Missouri. The triangular frame of the catenary arch contains a unique tram system to take visitors to the top viewing deck.

Gateway Arch National Park

The Gateway Arch now holds another odd record: it is America’s smallest national park. For years, it was a national monument. But the National Park Service took over in 2018. The park area is a mere 91 acres, a pinprick of land when compared the vastness of Death Valley, Yellowstone, and Denali. A museum under the arch was completed in 2018 as well.

Tips for Visiting the Gateway Arch

After enjoying this national icon with my sons this summer, here are my tips for visiting the St. Louis Gateway Arch:

Book your tickets ahead of time

The Gateway Arch transportation system can handle a maximum of 40 people every 7 minutes. This is at most right around 2,700 people per day. The real capacity is likely lower. Sure, it’s not as big of an attraction as other parks and monuments, but this is a limiting factor. Book your tickets ahead of time!

Foolishly, I thought we could walk in there and get same-day tickets. While they did have a few left, they were for the latest possible time slot, and I wanted to be in Kentucky by that time. We returned a few days later when we passed back through St. Louis.

Adult tickets cost $15 to $19, varying based on the date of your visit. Child tickets (ages 3 through 15) vary from $11 to $15. Kids under 3 are free.

Take time to see the museum

There is a decent sized museum on the ground floor that explores both the history of the U.S. expansion to the west and also the construction of the Gateway Arch. We arrived too close to our boarding time to enjoy it much. I’d give yourself a 30-60 minute cushion to be able to enjoy the museum ahead of your trip up the arch.

You can also check out the Monument to the Dream film for an additional cost. Adult tickets cost $7 and kids $3. It’s approximately 35 minutes long.

St. Louis Gateway Arch Tram Boarding Area

Consider your claustrophobia

If you don’t like tight spaces, the Gateway Arch isn’t for you. The tram cars that run up the arch are tiny. Personally, I think they are one of the coolest aspects of the monument, as they are quite the unique system to fit a very unique shape. You can stuff five people in them, at most, and have to spend a few minutes ascending and descending.

The top of the arch is surprisingly small as well. But not quite like the tram cars. You have a bunch of tiny windows through which you can take in the views of either the St. Louis skyline or the Mississippi River (and Illinois beyond).

Let the kids play in the park and fountain

In front of the museum is a shallow pool where you can take your shoes off and dip your feet in the water. It was the perfect refreshment for the boys on a hot and humid Missouri summer day. The park grounds are also lovely, an oasis from the surrounding city.

St. Louis Gateway Arch

Is Gateway Arch National Park Worth Visiting?

Of course it is. Don’t be silly. Any unique national monument is worth visiting. For an experience that takes a minimum of an hour, provides an interesting insight into it (and the city’s) history, and lets you take in cool views, I think the price is very reasonable. Plus, you get to ride one of the most unique transportation systems you’ll ever encounter. I definitely recommend visiting Gateway Arch National Park.

Ok. I get that you may not want to plan a trip to St. Louis just to see one monument. But don’t sleep on the area. I’ve unfortunately let domestic travel slide off the radar too often. With family now in Missouri, I know we’ll be back. And I’ll want to see more sights.

Are you a baseball fan? Consider making a trip to St. Louis to see your team play the Cardinals. The ballpark is smack in the middle of downtown. You can also see the nearby Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. Or head south to the Ozarks. There’s more to Missouri than you might think.

Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch Ballpark View