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Last summer as we planned a short trip to Springfield, Illinois, we decided to take Kristin to see the Gateway Arch at the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis. Kristin had never been to the top even though we often pass the Arch on our road trips to various destinations. It’s a right-of-passage for Missouri folk; Kristin was on her way.
Arriving at Gateway Arch National Park
It’s pretty exciting when you can see the Arch as you get closer to the park. We followed the GPS and signs to get to a parking lot nearby. I would suggest getting tickets to go up inside the Arch before you arrive; they may run out of available time slots for the time you are there. We happened to get ours online the night before. We guessed about when we would arrive.
We had a pleasant stroll from the parking area to the Arch. On the way, you’ll probably take a few pictures. It’s hard not to.
Soon, we made it to the base.
One thing to note: you may want to look around the base right away, but the entrance to get inside the facility is a little ways off. You’ll need to walk towards the Old Courthouse to find the entrance. You won’t walk all the way to the Old Courthouse, but if you head in that direction, you’ll see what to do.
The Old Courthouse is part of the national park. We haven’t made time to see it yet, but this is where Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed their first suit to try to gain their freedom.
The Store at the Gateway Arch
The new museum opened in 2018, so the museum was new to all of us. When you first enter the building, you’ll need to go through a metal detector before going down into the museum itself, so be sure you don’t have anything on you that will get confiscated, like a large pocket knife. After that, you’re free to explore until it’s your time to head to the top.
We didn’t have a lot of time before our tram ride to the observation deck up top, but we did check out the gift shop.
This was one of my favorite gift shops at a national park ever! I really wanted to buy everything, but I settled on a magnet. I loved that they offered personalized root beer for sale.
There is also a little cafe near the store, but since we were there in the early afternoon, we weren’t there during a meal time.
Going Up to the Top of the Arch
You’ll know when it’s time to get in line for your ride to the top by consulting the TV monitor above the line. We made sure to take a restroom break since there are no restrooms at the top.
The line looks long, but it’s organized by your ticket time. While you’re in line, you also wait in a room with a video presentation about the arch and the history surrounding it. It’s worth noting that there is a film you can view for a fee, but we didn’t do that this time. After the video, you’ll line up on a staircase to board your pod.
Now, the pod can be daunting for some. They even have a “practice pod” so you can see how comfortable you’d be inside. You do get to sit down. It can feel a little cramped, and the ride takes four minutes. But it’s worth it! Also note: if you have fewer than five people in your party, you will probably have “roommates” if it’s busy. We did both up and down.
The Observation Deck of the Gateway Arch
As you can see, it’s pretty narrow at the top compared to a lot of observation decks, but it didn’t feel overly crowded. People are coming and going while you’re there.
The view is pretty fun. The circle below is the entrance to the museum.
You’ll be able to see Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play.
On the opposite side, you’ll see the brown water of the Mississippi River.
You may also feel a slight sway at the top. No worries! It’s completely normal.
Gateway Arch National Park: The Museum
After we’d spent ample time at the top of the Arch, it was time to see the museum. When you’re ready, you just get in line for a return tram to the bottom. Now we had plenty of time to spend at the museum.
The museum tells the story of St. Louis as the gateway to the west, hence the name of the Arch. Since the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers meet in this city, St. Louis played many roles in American westward expansion and industry.
The exhibits and interactive are well-done. You’ll learn about life in the west for American Indians and European settlers.
And you’ll learn about traveling west.
And how that travel changed with the railroad.
You’ll learn about St. Louis’s riverboat history.
And how riverboats impacted industry.
We enjoyed touring the museum, and Kristin loved the interactive features as she learned more about St. Louis and the West. Everyone should plan to visit The Gateway Arch National Park at least once. As we walked away, we had to take more pictures of the Arch.
And one more…it’s hard to stop!
The Mississippi Riverfront
After we walked back to our car, we decided to make a quick stop at the riverfront before heading on. You could opt to do a river cruise, but we didn’t this time. We have done a cruise at Hannibal, Missouri, and I think that cruising the Mississippi is a great experience.
We found this statue by the river.
Here is the description:
We had a great afternoon exploring Gateway Arch National Park. Soon, we were back on the highway towards Illinois to check into our lodging before driving on to Springfield the next day.
If you’d like to read more about our adventures in Springfield, Illinois, click on the links below.