Gateway Arch National Park – What to See, Facts & Photos

Petr Novák

Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri is unique in many ways. Spanning 0.14 mi2, it is the smallest USA national park. For comparison, Vatican City, the smallest state globally, is 0.17 mi2. It’s the only national park located at the heart of a major city, making it accessible by subway. Also, it is relatively young, having been declared on February 22, 2018.

Gateway Arch National Park | © Robert Linder / Unsplash.com

Table of Contents
  1. Information About Gateway Arch National Park
  2. What to See and Do in Gateway Arch National Park
  3. When to Visit Gateway Arch National Park
  4. Gateway Arch National Park Entrance Fees
  5. How to Get to Gateway Arch National Park
  6. Lodging in Gateway Arch National Park
  7. Tips and Advice before You Visit Gateway Arch National Park
  8. Photos of Gateway Arch National Park

Information About Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park’s history began on December 21, 1935, with the establishment of its predecessor, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It was intended to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the subsequent westward movement of American pioneers, the first civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the debate over slavery triggered by the Dred Scott case.

Despite its small size, Gateway Arch National Park is easily recognizable. Its centerpiece, a 630 ft-tall metal arch built between 1963 and 1967, symbolizes St. Louis and its role in settling the American West.

The rest of the park comprises other historically significant buildings: The Old Courthouse and the museum located directly below the arch. In 2021, official data shows that the park welcomed 1,145,081 visitors.

Considering its proximity to the downtown area, the park’s animal diversity is limited. Among mammals, you are most likely to encounter the ash squirrel or the Virginia opossum. Among birds, the rock pigeon, the eared cormorant, and the migratory thrush are commonly seen.

What to See and Do in Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch in St. Louis

The Gateway Arch, which houses an observation deck, is the park’s main attraction and St. Louis’s hallmark. Standing 630 ft tall, it is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty (305 ft) and half the height of the Empire State Building (1,250 ft).

The building’s shell is not concrete, but a 6.3 mm thick layer of stainless steel. A pair of cable cars, each with eight circular cabins for five people, transports visitors to the observation deck. The ascent takes 4 minutes, and the descent 3 minutes.

Although the Gateway Arch observation deck’s windows are small given the pressure of over 500 tons of steel, you can see up to 31 mi away on a clear day. The observation deck can accommodate up to 160 people.

The Gateway Arch and the adjacent museum are open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter, and from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer. The last tram departs one hour before closing.

Tickets for the Arch must be purchased separately and ideally in advance. The price per adult ranges from $15.00 to $19.00 depending on the day selected, while the price per child ranges from $11.00 to $15.00. America the Beautiful Pass holders receive a discount of $3.00.

Right at the Arch, you can watch the documentary Monument To The Dream about the Gateway Arch, its construction, and historical context. The cost is $7.00 for an adult, $3.00 for a child, and $7.00 for America the Beautiful pass holders.

Old Courthouse

Adjacent to the Gateway Arch is the Old Courthouse, where the first two Dred Scott trials took place in 1847 and 1850.

Dred Scott was a slave who, together with his wife Harriet Scott, sued his owner on April 6, 1846. They demanded their freedom based on the fact that they had previously lived in the territories of Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery had been outlawed by the so-called Missouri Compromise of 1820.

At the time, Missouri courts adhered to the principle that once freed, slaves remained free. However, they were unsuccessful. In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Compromise was invalid and that African Americans had no right to freedom and citizenship.

This court case is one of the most critical in US history as it significantly influenced the nation’s course. It was one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Civil War, which ultimately led to the abolition of slavery.

The Old Courthouse is closed for renovations until 2023.

When to Visit Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park is worth visiting whenever you’re in the area. Due to its proximity to downtown St. Louis, the weather forecast doesn’t play as significant a role.

However, most people visit the park during the summer months of June through August, when daytime temperatures range from 68°F–86°F.

The park offers a different atmosphere in winter. From December to February, temperatures usually hover just above freezing, so if there is a typical five days of rain a month, you might see the arch under a cover of snow.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers in Gateway Arch National Park

Here are the average temperatures in Gateway Arch National Park. The visitor numbers are based on a 2017-2021 average; the data source is the National Park Service.
Please find the information in the table below:

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 41°F 24.80°F 5.2 26 175 🟩
February 46°F 28°F 5.2 32 672 🟩
March 57°F 37°F 8.1 89 651 🟨🟨
April 68°F 48°F 10.4 101 378 🟨🟨
May 77°F 57°F 12.1 129 154 🟨🟨
June 86°F 66°F 11.3 204 057 🟧🟧🟧
July 90°F 70°F 10.3 418 517 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 88°F 68°F 9.3 191 939 🟧🟧🟧
September 81°F 59°F 7.8 120 506 🟨🟨
October 68°F 48°F 7.7 116 707 🟨🟨
November 55°F 39°F 7.2 84 270 🟨🟨
December 45°F 28°F 6.6 62 297 🟩

Gateway Arch National Park Entrance Fees

There is no charge to enter Gateway Arch National Park. However, there is a fee to enter the Gateway Arch, watch the documentary, and take a river cruise. From this fee, $3.00 is directed to the National Park Service.

At Gateway Arch NP, the America the Beautiful pass applies, but it only saves you $3.00. Unless you intend to visit other parks, it’s not worth buying it for $80.

How to Get to Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch is one of the few national parks that is more conveniently visited using Uber or public transportation. The local subway stops at its boundary; simply alight at the “8th and Pine Streets” or “Lacleades Landing” stop and follow the street signs. It’s less than a 10-minute walk straight to the Arch.

I recommend using Google Maps to find routes.

Planning a road trip will facilitate calculating commute times from nearby cities:

From / To Distance Driving Time Map
Chicago 297 mi 5 hours View Route
Indianapolis 242 mi 3 hours 50 minutes View Route
Kansas City 249 mi 4 hours View Route
Nashville 308 mi 4 hours 35 minutes View Route
Oklahoma City 499 mi 7 hours 20 minutes View Route

If you’re arriving in St. Louis by rental car, I recommend leaving it parked at your accommodation and walking or taking public transportation to Gateway Arch National Park. The closest parking garage is the Stadium East Garage, where there is a fee for the first 5 hours of parking $9.00. It is recommended to purchase a parking pass in advance, as it tends to be crowded during St. Louis Cardinals’ games.

Lodging in Gateway Arch National Park

🏨 Hotels

The location of the national park in the heart of a major city provides a broad range of accommodation options, with national chains including Super 8, La Quinta, DoubleTree, and Holiday Inn operating in St. Louis. The price of a room for two for one night starts at approximately $75.

Pay careful attention to reviews when selecting your accommodation. On Booking, I recommend choosing hotels with a rating of at least 6.5/10 (suitable for an overnight stay). A rating of 8/10 and above signifies a very good standard, while 9/10 and above promises an exceptional experience. The rating should have at least 100 reviews. If there are fewer, the final grade will likely decline in the future.

For myself, I can recommend the three-star Missouri Athletic Club hotel, conveniently located close to the national park. I couldn’t find better value for money. And consider the stylish interiors it offers.

⛺ Campsites

It probably won’t come as a big surprise that there are no campgrounds directly within Gateway Arch National Park.
The closest location with a solid selection of campsites is Carlyle Reservoir, which is an hour and a quarter drive east of St. Louis. There are five campgrounds for tents and RVs around the lake. You can make reservations at Recreation.gov.

Tips and Advice before You Visit Gateway Arch National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

The Gateway Arch Visitor Center is located directly under the arch, the park’s main attraction. Through the visitor center, you can ascend to the top of the arch, access the museum, watch a documentary, purchase souvenirs, and grab a coffee.

👍 Good to Know

A few hours is sufficient to explore Gateway Arch National Park. In the summer months, you can enhance your visit with a picnic on the grass, and you can easily purchase snacks on the streets.

The Park Service has released several podcasts that offer an in-depth look at Gateway Arch. You can download them for free to your phone and listen to them while you’re driving, for instance.

Photos of Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park | © Brittney Butler / Unsplash.com
NP Gateway Arch | © Chris Hardy / Unsplash.com
Gateway Arch National Park | © Intricate Explorer / Unsplash.com
Gateway Arch National Park | © Chris Hardy / Unsplash.com
Gateway Arch National Park | © Pixabay.com

US National Parks

  1. List of US National Parks
  2. America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  3. Timed-Entry Reservation for US National Parks

Travel Guides to USA National Parks

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