Gateway Arch National Park | St. Louis, MO

Gateway Arch National Park is the farthest east national park that we have visited so far and it is also one of the smallest.  Interestingly, it is not a park in the traditional sense with cascading waterfalls, soaring mountain peaks, or endless sand dunes.  It is a park to preserve the history of St Louis and the pivotal part it played in the exploration and settlement of the west.

What we did at Gateway Arch

The grounds surrounding the arch are green lawns, pathways, and ponds.  These are free to public use.  To enter the museum portion of the park, you actually enter through doors that take you below the grounds.  The entire museum is underground.  This was also the first park we went to that we had to go through a security check.  After security, you are free to wander the beautiful museum that talks all about the history of the area with many artifacts, displays, and interactive screens. You can check out the official website here.  

Documentary Film

We chose to pay the additional fee to watch the movie about the construction of the arch.  It was fascinating and I would recommend it if you like that sort of thing.  

To the Top

We also chose to pay for tickets to go inside the arch itself.  We recommend getting those tickets in advance as I heard some people around us that were not able to get tickets the day of.  Everything was sold out.

The ride to the top was similar to being in an enclosed Ferris wheel.  The small car only held five people and quickly traveled up one of the legs of the arch, following the contour of the arch while keeping us upright and level.  Sadie was pretty nervous going up.  At the top, each group is only allowed 10 minutes to walk around and look out of the narrow window slits on either side to the city or river 600 feet below.  The time went quickly and then we were back on our way to the bottom.  We exited the car and made our way back to the lobby underground.

Gift Shop

Of course, whenever we got to national parks, we have to check out the gift shops. The Arch Store was particularly impressive. It was huge with tons of fun souvenir items to look at and tempt the kids. We walked out with cute bookmarks, a stuffed animal fox, and a lego set of the arch.

Riverboat Ride

Another thing we chose to purchase was tickets on a ferry boat to see the arch from the Mississippi River.  The arch was pretty, but the rest of the boat ride was just so so in my opinion.  Not sure if I would care to do that again.  

We drove back home the following day.

Where we stayed

St. Louis, Missouri is only about 3 1/2 hours away from us and Charlie didn’t want to take off too much work.  We left Thursday evening, stayed the day Friday to see the Arch, and then drove home Saturday morning.  So we only stayed for two nights in the hotel.

Whenever we stay at hotels, we like to try to find one with a swimming pool for the kids.  This trip was also at the end of March and the weather in Missouri can be unpredictable so we opted for a hotel with an indoor pool.

We stayed at the Drury Plaza Hotel, St. Louis Chesterfield. The hotel had a nice underground parking area with plenty of space.  Our room was a double queen configuration with a pull out sofa bed.  There was a refrigerator, but no microwave.  Breakfast was included and had a nice selection of the typical hotel choices: eggs, sausage, muffins, bagels, toast, cereal, oatmeal, and fresh fruit.  The hotel staff kept the area clean and well stocked. 

One of the main reasons we chose this hotel was because of the indoor pool.  Unfortunately, that part of it wasn’t as impressive.  The pool was quite small, it did not have a hot tub, and our kids were having a hard time with the crowds.  It honestly wasn’t that crowded, but since the pool wasn’t very big, it felt that way.  We only stayed for a short time and then came back up to the room for showers and a late dinner. 

What we ate

Whenever we travel we try to have a mix of going out to eat, trying something fun from the area, and eating simply with things we have brought from home or gotten at a grocery store.  Because this trip was so fast, we didn’t bring much with us besides snacks (check out my post about roadtrip snacks here).  We knew we would eat breakfast at the hotel, we wanted to eat at the Arch, and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do for dinner.

We ate lunch at the Arch Cafe.  It was located underneath the arch, in the main area next to the museum, the gift shop, and the access to the top of the Arch.  We were pleasantly surprised with the selection and the quality of the food. Charlie got chicken strips, Lily and I got paninis with chips, and Ethan and Sadie got giant pretzels.  We got a couple of smoothies to share.  Since it was nearly 2:00 by the time we got lunch, we snarfed everything!  

Come dinner time, we hadn’t planned for anything special.  We weren’t sure if we were even going to be hungry.  I finished up helping the kids get showered and in pjs while Charlie headed out to figure out something for us that he could easily bring back to the hotel.  He decided to try something new for us.  Noodles and Company.  We tried a few different pasta dishes and everyone was happy with their choices.  It ended up being a delicious, cozy meal after a busy day.  

What we would do differently

Whenever you do something for the first time, you learn things.  Some things go well, some things you would do differently.  If we went back to Gateway Arch National Park, I would spend more time in the museum.  We thought we planned plenty of time, but the museum was large and very nice.  We could easily have spent another hour looking around and learning.

If we were to go again, I probably wouldn’t do the river cruise.  But that’s tricky because we have done it once.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it, I’m just saying it wasn’t the most amazing part of the day.  It was fun to be on the water, but the scenery wasn’t that great.  

I also wish we would have been able to go into the Courthouse, but it was closed.  

There was also a beautiful old cathedral near the Arch (Basilica of Saint Louis), but unfortunately, it was also closed by the time we were leaving the Arch area.  I think both places would have been fascinating to tour.

Final Thoughts

Gateway Arch National Park is very different from what you may expect from a “national park.” It was much more historical rather than natural wonder.  But I feel like it has its place as a national icon.  I learned a lot about the area, the construction process, and what it stands for.  It was also well maintained. Everything was clean, free of trash, and felt really new and updated.

We loved our quick trip to St. Louis and Gateway Arch National Park. It was a fun escape for Spring Break and we were happy to check another park off the list! As I do for every National Park, I would recommend it if you are traveling through the area of St. Louis, Missouri!


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