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Our first and only full day in St. Louis, Missouri was spent with my grade school friend, Keren. She has lived in St. Louis for over a decade and knows the thriving metropolis like the back of her hand. We were fortunate enough to have her as our tour guide and she did not disappoint! Our first stop, at my request, was the Gateway Arch, St. Louis’s signature landmark.
What makes the Gateway Arch unique?
The Gateway Arch, dubbed the Gateway to the West, is a homage to the countless officials, explorers, and pioneers that helped develop the western portion of the United States.
A few fun facts:
- The arch soars 630 feet into the air and is the same footage width-wise. It is twice as tall and wide as the Statue of Liberty, including the pedestal and foundation!
- Steel and concrete are the main building materials; stainless steel creates the brilliant shine on the outside.
- The Gateway Arch is the focal point of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a national park so named for President Thomas Jefferson’s achievements with the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark Expedition.
- The arch was a creation of Finnish descent, Eero Saarinen. He entered his design in a competition organized by the government in efforts to spruce up the waterfront region and simultaneously stimulate the economy after a devastating blow from the Great Depression.
- Beginning construction and eventual public opening took place in the 1960’s.
The Gateway Arch is truly an amazing architectural contribution to our nation! It is able to withstand earthquakes and compensates for windy weather, swaying up to 18 inches in either direction.
A special tram transports visitors to the top of the arch where they are able to glimpse spectacular views of central St. Louis and beyond, the Mississippi River,and the bordering region of Illinois. The observation deck has smaller viewing windows than I would have imagined (sixteen 7 X 27 inch windows on either side of the arch). Any larger and they would have shattered under the pressure of the arch’s gross weight.
What can visitors see and do at the Gateway Arch?
Perhaps the main reason why tourists frequent the Gateway Arch is to experience the ride up to the observation deck and view all the sites surrounding the Mighty Mississippi! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as the ride up to the top. Up until recently, we weren’t even aware that accessing the observation deck was an option.
Waiting in line, about to board the vessel that takes visitors to the top of the observation deck of the Arch.
The vessel that transports visitors up over 600 feet into the air is barrel shaped. I thought that the inside resembled a futuristic space capsule, as my friend Keren said multiple times when describing the tram, “Think Mork and Mindy.” Up to five individuals can squeeze into one of these pods. It is a tight fit but well ventilated during the 4 minute ride up and 3 minute ride back down. The sliding door that ushers visitors in and out of the tram has windows allowing spectators to see the inside walls, work spaces,and flights of stairs within either arch leg. We went up and down the same leg of the arch during our visit as the other leg was not in operation that day.
Quick note: If you suffer from any degree of claustrophobia, I would suggest taking a look at an actual model displayed at the courthouse where tickets can currently be purchased. In fact, upon purchasing our tickets, the receptionist asked about our comfort level in small spaces. It can be a tight, uncomfortable fit, especially when seated to capacity.
I am still not clear on the exact mechanics of the tram’s movement but can only compare it to that of a ferris wheel, which is still not accurate. As the vessel rotated up the leg of the arch, it creaked and wobbled, a slight discomforting sound, but nothing that made me want to flee. In fact, the ride was quite possibly the most exciting portion of the visit, just a bit more thrilling than stepping out onto the observation deck at the top of the arch. It was rather windy that day and being sensitive to movement, I was the first one in our group to feel the minute sway of the deck as we walked across. The million dollar views were simply amazing and we would have stayed longer (visitors can stay as long as desired, up until the closing of the monument) but we had more planned that day.
There are no restrooms accessible in the arch, especially the observation deck; no restaurants or concession/snack stands available either. There is a brand new gift shop located on the interior base of the arch chock full of souvenirs. I was able to get a couple of stamps in my National Parks Passport for the Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial at a park ranger booth sitting just outside of the gift shop, as well.
As mentioned before, there was (and has been) quite a bit of construction going on around the arch. The Museum of Westward Expansion, which sits directly under the arch, was not open due to said renovations/additions. Some of the artifacts from this museum, instead, are currently housed in the Old Courthouse (just west of the arch) along with information posts/exhibits on the history and eventual creation of the arch.
This mural, displayed across the way from the gift shop, depicts the many dedicated men and women who put so many hours into making the Gateway Arch the awe-inspiring monument that it is today.
What are the hours of operation and admission?
The hours of operation for the Gateway Arch depend largely on the time of year. Summer hours (generally Memorial Day thru Labor Day) are from 8 AM to 10 PM. Winter hours vary but are typically 9 AM thru 6 AM. Visitors wishing to purchase admission tickets can do so online, via call center, or at the Old Courthouse located at 11 N. 4th Street. The courthouse opens its doors to the public at 7:30 AM during the summer; otherwise it opens a half hour later.
Interested in purchasing tickets online? You can access the online store here. Entrance into the arch is $3 for adults and free for children. Tickets for the tram ride to the observation deck start at $10. In addition to accessing the Gateway Arch, customers have the added bonus of including riverboat tours and/or dinners along the Mississippi River. These water cruises showcase striking views of the Arch!
There is not much in the way of accessibility to the tram and observation deck for those with mobility challenges. Visitors must ascend and descend flights of stairs to reach the pods and observation deck. The small space of the pod has little (if any) room for special seating. Ramps do allow easy entrance into the courthouse, ground level of the arch and first level of the riverboat. Accommodations are available for those with hearing and vision impairments.
Where is it located?
For detailed driving directions to the arch, click here.
For more information on places to see and experience in and a round our nation, check out our Trail Guide page. If you have visited some of these sites or have a suggestion on nearby sites, leave us a comment below! Happy trails!