History & a View From the Top of the St. Louis Arch

St. Louis Arch at Jefferson National Expansion MemorialSt. Louis Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

St. Louis Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Presiding proudly over the city of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is the most recognizable building in the city’s skyline.  It’s that iconic symbol, often photographed, that helps identify the city to millions of people who have never, and perhaps will never, visit.

The Gateway Arch is located in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, near the location where the Lewis & Clark expedition started, giving rise to its moniker Gateway to the West.  It was designed by Eero Saarinen, the renowned Finnish architect, and completed in 1965.  It wasn’t opened to the public, however, until June 1967.  At its tallest point, the arch stands 630 feet tall, the same dimension as its base from leg-to-leg.  That’s the equivalent of 63 stories.

At the bottom of the arch is a visitor center and a Museum of Westward Expansion.  Visitors are required to go through a security checkpoint before accessing the visitor center, so allow a little additional time in your plans.  Exhibits in the visitor center and museum show the history of St. Louis and the surround riverfront area.  After a look around there, it’s time to head to the top of the Arch.  An elevator like tram takes visitors to the top of the Arch in a quick 4-minute ride.  The tram leaves every 10 minutes, but during peak tourism times, the wait can be lengthy.

The viewing area at the top of the arch will hold up to about 160 people.  That can be a bit crowded as everyone waits to look out the windows (there are only 32 windows), but the view is worth it.  On a clear day you should be able to see for about 30 miles.  After you’ve enjoyed the view you can take the tram back down.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  There are no restrooms at the top.

Observation deck of St Louis Arch

There are steps to the top – 1,076 of them – but are used only by workers and staff.  Visitors are not permitted to make the climb to the top.  But it’s nice to know the stairs are there, just in case of an emergency.

Allow about two hours for a visit to the St. Louis Arch.  That will give you time to explore the museum as well as have some time at the top.  Allow additional time to explore the rest of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial or during peak times when crowds will likely result in long wait times.

Location:  Memorial Drive.

Hours:  9 am-6 pm during the winter, and 8 am-10 pm during the summer.  Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  It is most crowded during the midday hours.

Tickets:  $10 adults; $5 kids (3-15); and $7 with a National Park Passport.  Tickets for the tram can be purchased in advance online or onsite on day of visit.  During the heavily visited summer months, advance purchase is strongly recommended.

Public Transportation:  Take the MetroLink Lightrail to Laclede’s Landing stop.  The Memorial is about a 5 minute walk.  From the airport, the ride is about half an hour, with departures every 15-20 minutes.

Photo credit:  Buphoff (exterior shot), Daniel Schwen (observation deck), both via wikimedia commons

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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

One Response to “History & a View From the Top of the St. Louis Arch”

  1. July 2, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Great post about the arch! I remember going as a child and learning about how it sways in the wind (designed to withstand severe winds). The museum is a really great place to visit as well- definitely all worth the trip. I’ll have to go back and take my children there soon! 🙂

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