Gateway Arch National Park

A Complete Guide to Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park is the Nation’s 60th and smallest park to be designated a National Park. The site was formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

The Gateway Arch, 630 feet tall, is near the Mississippi River in the heart of St. Louis. It celebrates America’s westward expansion, pioneering spirit, and Thomas Jefferson’s role in the Louisiana Purchase.

This is your guide to Gateway Arch in 24 hours or less.

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How Big is Gateway Arch National Park?

Gateway Arch National Park is the smallest National Park in the US, at just 91 acres. While a very small park, it has much history to discover, from westward expansion to the archaeological feat of constructing the arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Church at Gateway Arch
Historic Church at Gateway Arch National Park

Is Gateway Arch the same as the St. Louis Arch?

In a conversation with my friend, she said, “The Gateway Arch, do you mean like the St. Louis Arch?”

“Yes, the arch in St. Louis.”, I replied.

So, to ease any confusion, the Gateway Arch National Park is also called the St. Louis Arch. It was also formerly the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Gateway Arch National Park

When one typically thinks of a National Park, one may not think of a small plot of land with a monument. The most significant hiking trail at Gateway Arch is the paved paths around the arch and church.

You will not find geologic features, beautiful large animals, or mountain peaks here. However, I did find the arch well worth visiting.

artwork at Gateway Arch

When did Gateway Arch become a National Park?

Gateway Arch became a national park in 2018, making it the 60th National Park to be established. At this time, the park’s former name, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, was also changed to Gateway Arch National Park.

How long do you need to visit Gateway Arch National Park?

If you take your time, you can comfortably see everything in a half-day. I enjoyed seeing it at night, so I recommend a later afternoon arrival followed by an early morning viewing of the arch, museum, and interior via a tram ride. Keep reading to find out what that itinerary looks like.

View from Riverboat Cruise on Mississippi River

Gateway Arch Visitor Center and Passport Stamps

The visitor center at Gateway Arch is located directly under the arch. Here, you can find passport stamps, information, and ticketing. It is also the central location for the museum, tram to the top, Monument to the Dream documentary, the Arch gift shop, and the Arch Cafe.

Learn more about National Park Passports in this article

Entrance Fee

Entry to the Gateway Arch and museum is free, and you can visit year-round. Activities, including the tram ride, movie, and riverboat cruises, cost money.

Things to do at Gateway Arch National Park

  • Explore the museum at the arch
  • Watch a movie on the construction of the Arch
  • Take a tram ride to the top of the arch
  • Virtual Reality Theater
  • Walk the paths surrounding the park
  • Visit the historic courthouse
  • Take a Riverboat Cruise

There is much more than meets the eye at first glance, so don’t overlook this park. 

Explore the museum at Gateway Arch

The museum at Gateway Arch moves through different time periods in the St. Louis Area, showcasing the area’s historical significance. I walked through the exhibits chronologically, starting with colonial St. Louis and working through 200 years of history, but you can go in any order you choose. With interactive touch exhibits and ranger talks, I spent a couple of hours looking at the museum.

Inside Museum at Gateway Arch National Park

See Monument to the Dream

Monument to the Dream is a 35-minute documentary on the arch’s construction. It provides insight into the crew’s challenges. The film is shown in the theater near the museum inside the arch. Tickets are required for viewing.

I enjoyed the documentary because it provides a firsthand account from the project’s architects, builders, and supporters.

Take a Tram Ride to the top of the Gateway Arch

The tram ride to the top of the Gateway Arch takes 45 minutes to an hour, including boarding the trams and the trip. Tram rides cost money and vary depending on the day you visit. Advanced reservations are highly recommended as they sell out early and often.

Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before your tram ticket time to go through security before boarding the tram.

Tram loading zone at Gateway Arch National Park

What is it like to ride the tram?

I’m not going to lie; the entrance to the tram cars and the look of the tram car itself gave me Men in Black vibes. Eight capsules hold five people each; I shared a capsule with another family.

Taking the ride itself felt like a Ferris Wheel ride. It was a very smooth ride. The view from inside the tram is just the inside structure of the arch. The view outside isn’t until you exit the car and reach the viewing platform.

View of inside of tram car

View from the top

Experience the St. Louis skyline and views of the Mississippi River differently. The view from the top of the Gateway Arch is incredible; on a clear day, you can see 30 miles in each direction. Also, one of the best views of the entire courthouse is from the top of the Arch.

View over the Mississippi River from the top of the Gateway Arch

How long can you stay at the top of the Gateway Arch?

Visitors can stay at the top for one tram cycle, which takes about 7-9 minutes. They return to the bottom in the same car they came up in.

Virtual Reality Theater

Virtual reality theater allows visitors to experience what the St. Louis riverfront was like in 1855. Wearing a 3D headset will transport you to the past. Grab your tickets in advance.

Visit the Historic Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse was the setting of some of the country’s most important cases, including the Dred Scott and Virginia Minor cases. These cases were both for quality in that Dred sued for his freedom, and Virginia fought for women’s voting rights. It was under renovation when I visited and is set to reopen in the summer of 2025.

Old Courthouse view from the top of Gateway Arch

Riverboat Cruise

Travel through time on a replica 19th-century paddle-wheel riverboat. Day or night, the Riverboats at the Gateway Arch offer stunning skyline views that have been voted Best in St. Louis. With various sightseeing, dinner, and specialty outings, a riverboat cruise makes a unique and relaxing way to experience the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis.

I took the dinner cruise, which allowed for spectacular views of the city and the Gateway Arch at night. The food wasn’t fabulous, but the rest of the experience, including the live band, was worth it.

Riverboat Cruise

Where to Eat

Arch Cafe is inside the Visitor Center area and offers food, drinks, and coffee. Snack food options are also available for purchase.

I grabbed a cup of coffee here after exploring the park before setting off for my next destination. 

Arch Cafe Gateway Arch

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis, which overlooks the Mississippi River and Gateway Arch. It was very convenient to park at the hotel and walk across the street to the park. I also started my day with breakfast at the hotel.

Recommended Itinerary

Arrive in St. Louis in the afternoon. Check into your hotel. I chose the Hyatt Regency St. Louis, as it is at the park entrance. Walk around Gateway Arch National Park grounds to take in the scenery and read the informational signs along the walkways. Take an evening riverboat cruise to enjoy the views of the city and Gateway Arch at night. 

Take an early tram ride to the top; remember to book beforehand. After going to the top, explore the museum and watch Monument to the Dream. Grab your souvenir at the gift shop, have some lunch at Arch Cafe, and get your passport book stamped.  

This is the passport book that I prefer to use as I am to visit all 429 National Park sites. 

Other Parks Near Gateway Arch National Park

These parks are located in Missouri and closest to Gateway Arch National Park.

  • Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

  • Ste. Geneviève National Historical Park

  • Ozark National Scenic Riverways

  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Illinois is also relatively close.

Check out this article for more information on National Park sites in Missouri.