Am I the only one who didn’t realize you can ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis?
For years, I’d seen the Arch on tv and always thought it was a solid steel structure. For some reason it had never occurred to me that there could be a way to go up inside.
But on a recent trip to St. Louis, I learned that you can indeed visit the top of the Arch, provided you’re willing to sit inside a tiny orb that travels up on a rickety, angular tram system similar to that of a ferris wheel.
Read on for more information about visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – which happens to be one of America’s newest national parks! It’s one of the only national parks in an urban setting.
Tickets and cost of visiting the Gateway Arch
The Arch opened in 1965 and attracts in excess of four million visitors every year. It stands 630 feet tall, about half the height of the Empire State Building and just higher than Seattle’s Space Needle.
As of 2021, ticket prices for the Arch now vary depending on the day of the week. The basic weekend price of going inside the arch is currently $12-16 for adults (less if you have a National Park Passport) and $8-12 for children under 15.
The cheapest prices are usually available from Monday to Thursday. Consult the Arch’s website, because their prices change so frequently from day to day.
Assuming you’re ready to go up inside the Arch, where can you get your tickets? You can always visit the arch website.
There’s also an optional 35-minute “Monument to the Dream” film that comes with an extra cost – $7 for adults and $3 for kids.
And there are various riverboat cruises that guests can purchase through the Arch website to take a ride on the Mississippi River.
The Arch also has a store if you want to pick up a few overpriced books or souvenirs for your collection.
As of this writing, admission hours are 9 am to 6 pm during the winter and 8 am to 10 pm during the summer, with the last tram going up one hour before closing. So you can visit the Gateway Arch at night and get some nighttime St. Louis skyline photos, if you desire.
Riding the elevator to the top of the St. Louis Arch
After arriving and paying for the ticket, we were given a number and told to stand next to the corresponding door. We were shown a brief movie on the history of westward expansion and the Mississippi River, before the eight skinny doors opened, revealing bright-white orbs behind each.
Each orb elevator sits up to five people. You enter the orb through a small rectangular opening. This ride is not for large folks.
After the door closes, you begin the slow four-minute ride to the top. The elevator ride is rickety, much like a ferris wheel, as the orb shakes back and forth. Some of my co-riders commented that the ride felt scary and unsafe, but I enjoyed it. The danger made it exciting!
View from the top of the Gateway Arch
Be prepared – the view from the top of the Gateway Arch is not like the panoramic view from the Empire State Building or the Space Needle. The windows at the top of the Arch are very small, just 7 x 27 inches.
For the best views, you have to bend down and lean out awkwardly to put your face against the glass. It’s a decent view, but nothing special. You can see the St. Louis skyline on one side and western Illinois across the Mississippi River on the other.
You can stay at the top of the Gateway Arch as long as you like, though because of the limited views it’s unlikely you’ll need to stay more than 10 minutes. Virtually all of the tourists who went to the top with me took the next tram back down.
The room at the top is fairly small, so there’s just not much going in inside the top of the Arch. Taking a trip up the Arch is definitely worth it, just to check off the bucket list. As long as you’re not scared of heights!
The Former Museum of Westward Expansion
The Arch used to have at its base the Museum of Westward Expansion, which was free to visit even without an Arch ticket. The museum consisted of a small room with galleries of presidents and historic figures, including a map of the travels of famed explorers Lewis & Clark.
I was particularly interested in that since I’ve seen Lewis & Clark historic markers all over the country, from Missouri to Oregon.
The museum also included an exhibit on Native Americans, artifacts from the era, and life-sized stuffed and mounted animals that used to roam the era, including a buffalo.
Stay updated on the new museum’s progress here as it aims to provide the kind of comprehensive experience you get from every national park visitor center.
Current exhibits include: Jefferson’s Vision, New Frontiers, The Riverfront Era, Building the Dream, and Colonial St. Louis.
Gateway Arch National Park Summary
The Gateway Arch is such an iconic structure that a trip to St. Louis isn’t complete without a visit there. That’s even more true after it was elevated to official national park status, joining the company of such long-revered parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.
But the views are just ok, so if you’re on a budget, you may be satisfied with taking some pictures from outside. You can always check out the visitor center instead of paying for the ride to the top. Or you could stop by the City Museum instead.
For more information on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, visit www.gatewayarch.com.