In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, including the best things to do at the Gateway Arch, plus info about the arch!
This past fall we visited St. Louis for the first time and although we only had one day to explore, we tried to make the most of it and see and eat as much as we could. (Watch our day here!) And at the top of our must-do list was Gateway Arch National Park.
Yes, we said National Park! Gateway Arch is not just a National Monument, but it’s one of the 62 US National Parks. And while it’s quite a bit different than some of the National Parks, like Glacier, Zion, and Mount Rainier, it’s a very unique National Park to explore.
Our original plan was to just see the Gateway Arch from the outside and snap some photos, but then we learned you can actually go to the TOP of the arch (more on this in a bit!) and knew we had to dedicate more time to the park!
And we are SO glad that we did! We ended up reaching out to the Gateway Arch to see if we could film in the park and they not only let us film, but arranged for a Park Ranger to show us around the museum and gave us free tickets for the tram ride. It was a blast!
We are so excited to share this guide with more information about this really interesting and fun park! Keep on reading to learn the best things to do at Gateway Arch National Park, the arch’s history, what you need to know before you visit, and even a handful of places to visit before or after while in St. Louis.
We hope you enjoy visiting Gateway Arch National Park as much as we did!
Note: our visit was in October 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this guide is written from our experience visiting during this time. We will make notes of things that may be different if you visit when life is more normal. We have avoided almost all indoor activities during COVID, but we were very impressed by how the Gateway Arch handled COVID, including requiring masks, having lots of sanitizer handy, requiring social distancing, and more!
About Gateway Arch National Park
The Gateway Arch is more than just a cool, silver arch that towers over St. Louis and the Mississippi River. It is a monument dedicated to St. Louis’ role in Westward expansion of the United States, as well as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and his role in opening the West. In fact, the park used to be called the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.”
The arch is also a celebration of the pioneers and many others who shaped the United States, including Dred Scott, who sued for his freedom from slavery at the Old Courthouse, Virginia Minor and her fight for women’s rights, and Lewis and Clark, who started their exploration in St. Louis.
Not only does the arch reflect a lot of important history in the United States, it’s also an impressive monument from a structural perspective. The Gateway Arch is the nation’s tallest monument at 630 feet and is as wide as it is tall. It is 75 feet taller than the Washington Monument and almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Construction of the Arch began February 12, 1963 and was completed on October 28, 1965. And despite workers hanging hundreds of feet in the air to complete the arch, there were no fatalities during construction.
After its completion, the Gateway Arch became an iconic landmark in St. Louis and a popular tourist destination. And as we mentioned above, the park was named the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, but in 2018 the park not only became an official National Park, but also changed its name to Gateway Arch National Park.
Between the interesting history, impressive architecture, and fun activities at Gateway Arch National Park, there is plenty to do and learn about to spend a half or full day!
When to visit Gateway Arch National Park
As a whole, the weather in St. Louis is pretty tolerable year round. The winters can be a bit chilly, with lows in the 20s, and the summers can be a bit hot and humid, but for the most part, any time will be a good time to visit Gateway Arch National Park.
The two main attractions of Gateway Arch National Park, the museum and the tram ride, are both indoors, so they make for great activities year round and in just about any weather! You may want decent weather for the tram ride though so you can have better views at the top. 🙂
Visiting Gateway Arch National Park
Gateway Arch National Park’s grounds are open 365 days a year from 5 AM-11 PM, but the hours to visit the Arch and the Old Courthouse vary depending on the time of year.
During the summer, the hours are from 8 AM-10 PM everyday and in the winter or offseason (Labor Day to Memorial), they are reduced to 9 AM-6 PM, but may be extended during the holidays. The only days the park buildings are closed are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
The park itself is free to visit, but if you want to do some of the activities, like the tram or the riverboat, there is an additional fee, but we’ll cover that next!
Things to do at Gateway Arch National Park
There are several things to do at Gateway Arch National Park, both free and paid activities, and you can purchase tickets either individually or as a package for $33. Unlike most National Parks, the America the Beautiful pass will not get you into these paid activities for free, but it will give you a few bucks off (making the package $30 total)!
You can get tickets and more info at the Gateway Arch website. Same day tickets can be purchased, but the Spring and Summer tickets sell out early and often, so we recommend buying your tickets as far in advance as you can!
Check out the new museum
As you walk up to the Gateway Arch, you’ll notice a window covered visitor center that is partially underground. In this visitor center lies the ticket center, information desk, gift shop, entrance to the tram, and a really neat museum (the view from inside the building is pretty cool too!).
This museum was recently redone and has 6 different areas that cover a wide range of history from 1764-1965, focusing on the American expansion to the west and St. Louis’ role in all of it.
The exhibits incorporate the stories of Native Americans, explorers, pioneers, and rebels who all were a part of making America possible. There are cool structures, important artifacts, and interactive displays.
The final section of the museum is dedicated to the Gateway Arch and we loved getting to learn more about the different design options (they have models of each one!), seeing how the tram works, and learning even more facts about the structure.
We were thankful to have a park ranger show us around the museum for 45 minutes, sharing with us some of the highlights and giving us loads of information! While you could speed through the museum in under an hour, we’d highly recommend spending more time so you can read the signs and fully appreciate all of the history that the Gateway Arch honors.
Ride the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch
Cost: $12 or $9 with the America the Beautiful pass
By far the BEST thing to do at Gateway Arch National Park is riding the tram to the top! As we mentioned above, we had no idea you could go up to the top of the Gateway Arch. And when we first found out that you could, we were super confused how it was possible!
Since the arch is curved, a traditional elevator to the top wouldn’t work, so they had to get a bit creative on how to transport people to the top.
What they ended up creating is a unique mode of transportation that is a combination of an elevator, ferris wheel, and escalator all rolled into one! This way, the pods can move along the curves of the arch. However, in order to keep passengers upright as the arch curves, the pods that you travel in rotate 155 degrees throughout the ride to the top.
Speaking of the pods, these are part of what makes the experience extra fun! The pods are very bright and white inside and reminded us of a futuristic space pod. As soon as the elevator-like doors opened when our pod arrived, we felt like we were about to walk onto the set of Star Trek!
But warning: they are TINY! They can seat 5, but with just the 2 of us we felt a bit cramped. If you’re claustrophobic, you may not like being in them.
The ride in the pod takes 4 minutes to get to the top and 3 minutes back down and along the way you get to peek into the inside of the arch, including the 43,000 tons of concrete and steel making up the Arch, as well as the 1,076 stairs that maintenance workers can use if needed.
Once you get to the top, there are 16 windows on each side of the arch, with views of the Mississippi River and Illinois on one side and views of the city on the other. The city views are incredible, but our favorite part was seeing the huge shadow the Gateway Arch casts onto the ground below. You can also look straight down and over to the sides and actually see the arch legs!
The entire tram experience will be around 45-60 minutes, which includes getting your ticket scanned, waiting to board, watching a video, waiting for the pod, the ride up, observing the view, and the ride down. The last tram leaves 1 hour before closing to make sure you have enough time.
We had SO much fun riding up in the pods and seeing the view! It was such a unique experience and we’d highly recommend it!
Note: we went during COVID, so things were a bit different. We had a pod all to ourselves, which was AMAZING! We hear that normally you have to share with strangers, which would be very cramped and also a bit awkward with people you don’t know. We also only had 10 minutes at the top and had to stick to our assigned windows (you get a section of windows on each side). Normally, you are free to move around and also stay up there as long as you’d like, but we felt that 10 minutes was plenty of time.
We were very glad we visited during COVID. We were able to have a much less crowded experience and enjoy the pod without others!
Visit the Old Courthouse (Currently Closed)
Although the Old Courthouse is currently closed and soon to be undergoing renovations, here is some information about it for when it opens back up!
As you walk around Gateway Arch National Park, you’ll notice the Old Courthouse, with its grand appearance and dome top. The courthouse was built in 1847 and is significant for a couple monumental cases in US history.
First, the Old Courthouse was where Dred Scott sued for his and his wife’s freedom from slavery, with trials in both 1847 and 1850. Their case went to the Supreme Court who stated that since slaves were property, they had no right to sue. Despite the loss, this case played a huge role in the start of the Civil War and ultimately the freedom of slaves.
But not only is the Old Courthouse important for this monumental moment, but also in 1873 when Virginia Minor brought major attention to the women’s suffrage movement when she and her husband sued for the women’s right to vote.
At the Old Courthouse, they have some exhibits you can view to learn more about the history. Although we were unable to go in, we enjoyed seeing it from the outside. We’d also suggest heading to Kiener Plaza Park for a cool view of the Old Courthouse with the Gateway Arch behind it!
Take a Riverboat Cruise
Cost: $19 per person (for the hour long cruise), no America the Beautiful discount
Join one of the riverboat cruises to get a fantastic view of the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis riverfront! These boats are 19th century paddle-wheel riverboats and were brought to St. Louis in 1964 and originally used to let spectators watch the construction of the Gateway Arch.
While the arch is finished now, they still make for a great way to see the arch and hear about the history! The tours are narrated by the captain or a park ranger, so you can learn a bit as you cruise.
There are several cruise types available from dinner cruises, tours, to dance party cruises! The pricing varies depending on which cruise you choose. The cruises run Thursday through Sundays through November, but the times can vary day to day, so check the schedule in advance to make sure they’re running during your visit!
Watch the Moment to Dream Documentary
Cost: $7 or $4 with the America the Beautiful pass
Want to learn even more history about the Gateway Arch? In the Gateway Arch Visitor Center you can visit the Tucker Theater to watch the award-winning 35 minute documentary called “Moment to Dream.”
In this documentary they share Eero Saarinen’s inspiration behind his design and all of the work that it took to bring his vision to life. The film is played every hour from 9 AM-5 PM in the winter and from 9 AM-9 PM in the summer, but the timings may change, so check the schedule in advance and make sure to get your tickets beforehand!
Things to do near the Gateway Arch
Have some extra time before or after visiting Gateway Arch National Park? Here are some ideas of things to do near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis!
Try some iconic St. Louis foods
St. Louis is home to some unique and iconic foods, like Provel cheese, slingers, St. Paul sandwiches, toasted ravioli, and more! We’d highly recommend trying a few of their specialties while visiting St. Louis. Here are some suggestions!
Toasted raviolis (nicknamed T-Ravs) are basically just breaded deep-fried ravioli, which is something we didn’t know we needed! These little pillows of heaven were created in St. Louis by Mama Campisi’s and Charlie Gitto’s, both located in an Italian section of St. Louis called “The Hill.”
During the mid-1800s, immigrants from Europe congregated in this area, now known as The Hill, because of the train line here that connected to downtown. Today the neighborhood has a heavy Italian influence and is where you will find the best toasted ravioli!
- Mama Toscano’s: This is where we went and we loved it! It’s grab and go, but they fry the raviolis fresh, make everything by hand, and claim to have a higher meat to ravioli ratio than other spots.
- Charlie Gitto’s On the Hill
- Anthonio’s Taverna
- Favazza’s on The Hill
- Mama’s on The Hill
St. Louis is known for St. Louis style ribs, which refers to a specific cut of spare ribs. We LOVE BBQ, so we highly recommend trying ribs while in town!
- Pappy’s Smokehouse: This is where we went and while they aren’t necessarily St. Louis style, they are dang good!
- Salt + Smoke
St. Louis pizza
You’ve probably heard of Chicago deep dish pizza and NY style pizza, but what is St. Louis style pizza?
St. Louis style pizza is known for having thin, cracker-like crust, using Provel cheese, which is a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, and is cut into squares or rectangles (vs. wedges).
Here are a few spots to try St. Louis style pizza!
- Imo’s Pizza: this chain is very popular, but we hear it’s more of a tourist spot
- Uncle Leo’s Pizza
- Faraci Pizza
- Pirrone’s Pizzeria (a bit out of town)
The name of this dish definitely got our attention! A Slinger is a dish with eggs, hash browns, and meat, all covered in chili and topped with cheese and onions. There are other variations, as well! Want to try a classic Slinger in St. Louis? We hear these spots are great!
St. Paul Sandwich
Another popular food item in St. Louis is a St. Paul sandwich, which is a Chinese American sandwich consisting of an egg foo young patty, pickles, onions, mayo, lettuce, and tomato, on white bread. Here is where to try it!
Ooey Gooey Butter Cake
This may be one of our favorite new desserts! Ooey Gooey Butter Cake is just as it sounds, an ooey gooey cake. It was created in St. Louis in the 1930s by mistake. The baker got the proportions of butter wrong and the cake ended up gooey, but people loved it and it became a hit!
Eat ice cream or custard!
St. Louis is famous for custard, which is similar to ice cream, but contains at least 10% milkfat and more than 1.4% egg yolk and is more dense than ice cream. The famous spot to get custard in town is Ted Drewes, which has been serving frozen custard for over 80 years! At their shops you can get a wide variety of custard combinations, including different candies, sauces, and other add ins.
We tried the Tedad’s flavor of Ted Drewes, which has scotch oatmeal cookies from Dad’s Cookie Company in it. While it was really good, our heart was stolen by another frozen treat in town…Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery.
Clementine’s is a local small-batch ice creamery whipping up some of the best ice cream we have ever had! And y’all know we looooove our ice cream! While not custard, this ice cream is incredibly creamy and filled with delicious ingredients, like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, salted cracker caramel, and even alcoholic flavors!
This ice cream is so good that it was featured on Oprah’s Sexiest Ice Cream list in 2019. We loved it so much that we had to buy some pints to eat at a later date!
If we had to pick between Ted Drewes and Clementine’s, we’d pick Clementine’s (sorry die-hard Ted Drewes locals!). Although it’s like comparing apples and oranges, as they are quite a bit different. One is a high quality ice cream loaded with high quality goodies, which costs a bit more, while the other is a more nostalgic, affordable, and highly customizable treat.
Try some local drinks
Looking for a caffeinated or alcoholic beverage while in St. Louis? Here are a few spots to check out!
Visit other attractions in the city
- City Museum: This place looks so dang cool! We know it’s probably meant mostly for kids, but we are so excited to get back to St. Louis to experience the City Museum. It is four floors of slides, tunnels, exhibits and installations to crawl through and experience. It looks like a ton of fun!
- Take a tour or watch a baseball game at Busch Stadium
- Explore Forest Park, which is over 1,300 acres, making it bigger than Central Park. There is so much to see here, like the St. Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, and the Jewel Box
- Visit the Missouri Botanical Garden
- Tour the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery
- Go to the Cahokia Mounds across the river in Illinois
Visiting Gateway Arch National Park?
Pin this guide with the best things to do at the Gateway Arch to help plan your trip!