Riding to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

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.

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 2018, the price of going inside the arch is currently $13 for adults ($10 if you have a National Park Passport) and $10 for children under 15. Even if you don’t pay for a ticket to the top of the Arch, you can still make a free visit the Museum of Westward Expansion, located underground next to the visitor center beneath the Arch. There’s also a store if you want to pick up a few overpriced books or souvenirs.

Riding 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 sits up to five people. You enter the orb through a small rectangular opening. This ride is not for large folks.

Arch orb door

After the door closes, you begin the slow four-minute ride to the top. The 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.

Taking a trip up the Arch is definitely worth it, just to check off the bucket list.

The Museum of Westward Expansion

When you return to the bottom, you may want to check out the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is free to visit – even if you don’t buy an Arch ticket. The educational museum consists 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 includes 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.

Update 2018: The Museum of Westward Expansion has closed and is being replace with a new museum at the bottom of the Gateway Arch.

Museum of Westward Expansion

Gateway Arch Summary

The Gateway Arch is such an iconic structure that a trip to St. Louis isn’t complete without a visit there. In fact, it recently became an official national park, 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 and visiting the free museum instead of paying for the ride to the top. You can always check out the City Museum or Budweiser Brewery instead.

For more information on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, visit www.gatewayarch.com.

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend Booking.com where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. I lived in Oklahoma for 5 years but never made it to St Louis. Or Missouri other than driving through. Interesting, this gateway to the West. I remember hearing about it from naughty Okies who called it half a McDonald’s arch. It’s actually a very cool structure. Travelling to the top in the little orb sounds fun.

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