Whether you’re just driving through St. Louis, Missouri or in town for a quick business trip, here’s the perfect itinerary for one day at the Gateway Arch National Park. The Gateway Arch is one of the best national parks in the U.S. Note that spring is an extremely busy time so tickets for The Gateway Arch tram sell out quickly. Check the Gateway Arch National Park website to make reservations and operational hours. Originally published Sept. 5, 2019; Updated April 22, 2023
While The Gateway Arch National Park provided me a complimentary ticket in exchange for my honest review, my opinions are always my own. And I highly recommend The Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis as one of the best national parks in the U.S.
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Plan your visit to Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri
I’ve visited St. Louis countless times as it was the headquarters for one of my former companies. However, I never had the opportunity to go inside the Arch until the summer of 2019 when Gateway Arch National Park hosted me. Opinions are always my own.
History of Gateway Arch National Park
I was surprised to learn the Gateway Arch was a national park. While the tallest national monument in the United States was built in 1965, the Gateway Arch National Park only became a national park in 2018.
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis was formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to recognize President Thomas Jefferson’s role in the westward expansion. The Gateway Arch National Park was expanded to include the Old Courthouse, which is known for its landmark civil rights cases such as Dred Scott. If you love history and architecture, the Gateway Arch National Park – one of the best national parks – is for you.
Top things to do at the Gateaway Arch National Park in one day
I was surprised by how much more you could do in addition to seeing the Arch. The Gateway Arch National Park features so much more at one of the best national parks in the U.S.
- A unique tram ride to the top of the 630-foot monument for breathtaking views of the city day or night.
- An underground museum that covers more than two centuries of history in its educational exhibits.
- Several riverfront cruises, many of them themed, offering a historical tour as well as a different view of the arch and the Mississippi River.
- A 35-minute documentary film, Monument to the Dream
- Tour the historic Old Courthouse – the location of several landmark cases. (Check The Gateway Arch National Park website as this courthouse may be closed during its renovations.).
What kind of attractions does the price of admission cover at Gateway Arch National Park?
You can purchase tickets for each individual attraction or save money with a combo ticket at The Gateway Arch National Park. Check The Gateway Arch National park website for current prices and any temporary closures and guidelines. You’ll find something for everyone who loves history and architecture especially. That’s what makes The Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis one of the best national parks in the U.S. And you can see so much with this one-day itinerary guide to The Gateway Arch National Park.
- See Everything Combo: Tram ride to the top, documentary, one-hour St. Louis riverfront cruise
- Tram and Cruise Combo
- Tram and Movie Combo
I would do it again – and take more time to explore all the things to do at Gateway Arch National Park.
Take the tram ride to the Gateway Arch observation deck
How tall is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri?
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is 63 stories high. But you won’t have to walk up the 1,076 steps. That’s only accessible by the maintenance crew. A unique tram at the Gateway Arch National Park works a lot like a Ferris wheel transports you to the observation deck in four minutes. After 10 minutes taking in the scenic sites at the top of the Gateway Arch, your return trip takes three minutes.
Please note that face masks are not currently required to ride the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch. However, they are encouraged.
Please note that if you are claustrophobic, taking the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch National Park may not be an option for you. The the tram capsule is small and only has windows to see inside the arch (mainly the stairs and mechanics).
How to purchase tickets to Gateway Arch National Park’s tram
Travel tip: Purchase your timed Gateway Arch National Park tram tickets online ahead of time to avoid standing in line and to make sure you get a spot as tram tickets sell out quickly in the spring and summer. It’s recommended that you arrive at the Gateway Arch at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled time to allow enough time to go through check-in and security. You may only enter the Arch through the west entrance that faces Fourth Street and the Old Courthouse.
How to take the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
Once in line for the Gateway Arch tram, you’ll receive a boarding ticket with your tram car number. You’ll then watch a short movie about the Gateway Arch National Park before walking down a few steps to your assigned tram car. Unfortunately, the Gateway Arch tram and the observation deck are not accessible for visitors with mobility impairments.
Travel tip: You will not find any restrooms at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. So make sure to go before you board the tram to the top of the Arch.
Gateway Arch National Park staff will then take your photo in front of a green screen, which you can purchase as a souvenir after the tram ride.
Gateway Arch National Park fun facts
While waiting, you can enjoy some interesting fun facts and trivia about the Gateway Arch. The tram door features a low clearance (only 4 feet high) so watch your head and your step.
The Gateway Arch observation deck in St. Louis features 34 windows and can hold up to 160 visitors. Here you can view the city on both sides of the Gateway Arch – sometimes up to 30 miles away if the weather is cooperating.
How long does the Gateway Arch tour take? How long does the Gateway Arch Museum take?
The Gateway Arch National Park Museum recommends allowing 45 to 60 minutes for the entire tour. The last tram to the top of the Gateway Arch leaves an hour before closing (10 p.m. Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend; 6 p.m. Tuesday after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day). Always check the Gateway Arch National Park website for the latest operational hours.
How do you return from the top of the Gateaway Arch?
The return trip on the Gateway Arch tram runs about every 10 minutes. It’s a first-come, first-served basis. Check in with the park ranger on where to get in line. You’ll then be assigned a new tram car on the way back.
Once you return from the top of the Gateway Arch, you’ll find a few more steps to climb back up. You can then purchase your souvenir picture and explore the museum if you didn’t have the opportunity to do so before the tram ride.
Does the Gateway Arch National Park have restrooms?
While you’ll find restrooms inside the Gateway Arch National Park Visitor Center, the observation deck does not have restrooms. So make sure you go before you take your tram up to the top of the Gateway Arch.
Explore the Museum at the Gateway Arch National Park for free
Get your history on and explore the underground Museum at the Gateway Arch National Park. It’s one of the best – and free – things to do on a one-day trip to one of the best national parks in the U.S. Here you’ll find six engaging exhibits and galleries that will take you through two centuries of the country’s westward expansion. Gallery themes include:
- Colonial St. Louis – fur trade center
- President Thomas Jefferson’s vision and the Lewis and Clark exhibition
- Manifest Destiny – by war or by treaty, this era covers American’s belief at the time that they had a right to expand into the west at any cost
- The Riverfront Era – steamboats are responsible for St. Louis becoming the gateway to the west
- New Frontiers – explores the 19th century and the rise of industrialism
- Building the Gateway Arch – an intriguing look on how this unique monument was created
The Gateway Arch National Park Museum, which opened in 2018, also features a film, Monument to the Dreams (for a fee), a café, and a store.
Entrance to the Gateway National Park Museum and the visitor center is free and does not require a ticket.
Cruise in one of the riverboats at the Gateway Arch National Park
Note: Check the Gateway Arch National Park website for latest updates on what’s open as well as operational hours .
Enjoy a scenic one-hour riverboat cruise for some beautiful views of the Gateway Arch and also learn about the Mississippi River’s role in St. Louis’ history. The cruise season on a 19th-century paddleboat replica typically runs early March to early December
Or you can also take a two-hour St. Louis skyline dinner cruise, which includes a buffet dinner, music and nighttime views of downtown St. Louis. Cruises available Fridays, Saturdays and select Sundays April through October.
The riverboat cruises at the Gateway Arch National Park is one of the best things to do at one of the best national parks in the U.S.
You’re advised to arrive for your Gateway Arch riverboat cruise 15 to 30 minutes before scheduled departures.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch also offer specialty cruises such as Sunday Brunch, Blues Cruise, Family Funday, Showboat Theatre, Oktoberfest, Halloween Costume, New Year’s Eve Party Cruise, and much more. Check the Gateway Arch National Park website for specialty cruise details.
Things to do at Gateway Arch National Park: Take flight with Gateway helicopter tours
For another unique viewpoint, you can also take a Gateway Arch helicopter tour. It’s the perfect thing to do and add to your one-day itinerary to the Gateway Arch National Park. Flyover options include:
- Riverfront tour
- St. Louis deluxe tour
- Anheuser-Busch tour
- Botanical gardens tour
Tour the historical Old Courthouse for free
Note: As of this update on April 22, 2023, the Old Courthouse is temporarily closed for renovations. The historical and renovated Old Courthouse is considered a landmark not only for its structure, but also for its landmark cases. This is the site of where the Dred Scott case began – he and his wife sued for their freedom from slavery – and where Virginia Minor and her husband fought for women’s right to vote in 1873.
While slaves were sold on the steps of the Old Courthouse, many also sought and found freedom. For example, Ulysses S. Grant freed his only slave here in 1859. More than 200 slaves, including Dred and Harriet Scott, sued their owner and their lawsuit reached the Supreme Court. They were not successful, and is said that the opposition to this decision was one of the contributing factors of the Civil War.
Officially opening in 1845, the Old Courthouse features classic architecture including an Italian-Renaissance dome that’s similar to the U.S. Capitol building.
When is the Old Courthouse in St. Louis open? Is the Old Courthouse in St. Louis closed?
The Old Courthouse is free and typically open daily 8 to 4:30 p.m. You can also find a statue of Dred and Harriet Scott on its grounds. As of this update, the Old Courthouse is closed for renovations.
Visit the oldest building in St. Louis – Old Cathedral
What’s nearby the Gateway Arch National Park? While not part of the Gateway Arch National Park, the oldest building in St. Louis is nearby. The Basilica of Saint Louis, King – or more commonly known as the Old Cathedral, dates back to 1834 (although records indicate that its history goes back to 1734 when a one-room log structure was built on this land). According to its website, it is the oldest building in St. Louis and is a place of worship that welcomes all faiths.
The Old Cathedral also includes a museum that is open to the public on select days and times; check their website for details and the latest regarding any pandemic-related protocols.
Where to eat at Gateway Arch National Park
You can find the following places to eat in the Gateway Arch National Park. Again, check the website for operational hours.
- Paddlewheel Café, located on the riverboat dock, offers locally sourced burgers, sandwiches, snacks, wine and beer.
- Arch Café, located in the Gateway Arch visitor center, offers farm-to-table menu staples such as burgers, chicken sandwiches, paninis, wings and subs as well as St. Louis specialties like toasted ravioli and barbecued ribs.
Best places to eat in St. Louis – best mac and cheese
As I’m all about the mac and cheese, I had to check out the Salt + Smoke – the 2x winner of the annual St. Louis Mac and Cheese Throwdown.
Yeah…it’s pretty amazing and is a top contender on my quest to find the best mac and cheese list. The savory white cheddar (Ritz) cracker mac comes as a side to one of Salt + Smoke’s BBQ platters or sandwiches, but definitely rich enough to enjoy as a meal.
Special thanks to the Salt + Smoke crew in St. Louis for hosting me and for the great food and stellar service. Check their website for their three different locations in St. Louis. You won’t be disappointed. Opinions are always my own.
Check out my other favorite places to find the best mac and cheese in the U.S. and let me know where I should go next.