Gateway to History (and Fun)

On Easter Sunday I took a trip to downtown St. Louis and spent the day exploring the Gateway Arch and the surrounding area. Although I grew up mostly in the Midwest, I’d never taken a trip to the inside of the landmark. I knew that there was a way to physically visit the top of the Arch, and that there a few other activities to do inside (the subterranean level beneath the Arch grounds). But, I learned so much and got to engage in new experiences that day. 

The museum inside presents a timeline not only of the conception to construction of the Arch, but also the history of the region from the Louisiana Purchase, to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to Pierre Laclède’s fur trading, to the native tribes of the area. 

If you’ve never explored St. Louis, you should know that the Arch sits on the Mississippi Riverfront, and the river runs along the Missouri-Illinois state line.

The pinnacle experience was taking a (very tiny) tram to the top of the Arch. Part elevator, part enclosed Ferris Wheel car, the ride took about seven minutes to get to the top and six to return. Once we arrived at the top, we were able to peer out the small windows (because of COVID restrictions we had to stay at our designated window, a numbered space that corresponded to the tram car number we rode to the top). 

Viewing the Missouri side from the top allowed for a panorama of the city from a 630 foot vantage point. Looking at the Illinois side offered a view of the prairie-like lands, and less industrialized area. Both views have their appeal, and being at the top was a truly eye-opening experience. 

But there’s more to do at the Arch grounds, a National Park, than going inside the monument. The grounds themselves have recently been re-imagined and offer a beautiful green space in the city, including a reflecting pond, and paved paths for walkers and runners. Besides the paths, there’s also other ways to get around, including horse drawn carriage rides and a riverboat cruise. 

We opted to take the boat ride along the Mississippi, but skipped the carriage ride this time. The boat ride was a fun experience and the informative hour long ride along the waterfront delved into the area’s rich history and architecture. 

After the boat ride we took a short walk and explored the Old Courthouse grounds and City Garden Sculpture Park. The courthouse has its own history, including being site of the Dred Scott Case, and the sculptures in the park offer a chance to view public artwork in an outdoor green space. There’s more to see and do in the area, but that’s for another visit!

Tip: If you plan on visiting the Arch during the spring/summer of 2021, you’ll need to buy tickets to ride the tram to the top of the Arch at least a few weeks in advance because of COVID restrictions and distancing requirements.