I had the most St. Louis Day that began at the Arch and ended at Busch Stadium. My folks came to visit the city for the first time and so we toured our new hometown together.
The Gateway Arch is visible from all over the city and it’s really a majestic sight to behold. Usually, I don’t initiate trips to tall observation decks, but the Arch is an iconic St. Louis symbol and climbing to the top felt like the St. Louis thing to do. Plus, admission to the top is only $10, unlike Seattle’s Space Needle or Chicago’s Hancock and Willis Towers which will run you at least $20 per adult.
The Gateway Arch is located on National Park Service grounds. It’s actually the “tallest man-made national monument in the United States.” Park grounds also include the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott and his family sued for freedom from slavery from 1847-1850 during their first two trials.
One can visit the Old Court House and wander around the exterior of the arch for free
Although the observation deck windows aren’t visible in my photos, you can see them from the outside. This side of the arch is flat while the other contains the elevators.
Don’t forget to bring a hat or shades on a warm sunny day. You may have to walk a few blocks from your parking deck or meter and the light reflects off all of the metal and white concrete.
Before you arrive, realize that you have to reserve your tickets online, over the phone (877-982-1410), or in person at least two hours ahead of time. They are available at the Gateway Arch Ticketing & Visitor Center located Old Courthouse located about two blocks away.
An employee explained that the Ticketing and Visitors Center will eventually move back into the arch facility when construction is complete. With tickets in hand, we passed through the security station and monitored the screen above the North Tram that indicated what time slots could board.
Next, we waited for our elevator assignments. Each elevator, or, as I like to call them, Arch pods, holds five seats. A park ranger will assign visitors to pods, making sure to keep members of a party together. This might mean that you have to wait for the next seating unless you feel comfortable sitting with strangers.
The pods are tiny and the seats are so close together that even if you were strangers before the ride, you probably won’t be afterwards. . .
Before the pod doors open, visitors view a short film providing some background about the Arch. It all has a very retro and sci-fi feel.
After you climb into the pod and hunch into your seat, the doors will close and the four-minute ascent to the top of the Arch begins. It’s four minutes exactly; we timed it. The little pod will creak and rock as it climbs to the top of the Arch, and you can watch all of the stairs and cables and pulleys it passes out of the clear front doors.
I was surprised to find that the observation deck is a long and narrow carpeted space reminiscent of the inside of an airplane. The windows are long and narrow. Short people like me will need to kneel on the carpeted ledge that runs beneath the windows.
By the time we reached the other end of the space, a team of electricians entered. One of them was more than happy to talk to us about the inner workings of the elevator system and explained how the cables are replaced every other year whether they need to be or not.
The space inside the observation deck can feel claustrophobic, especially if it’s filled with other visitors. However, it’s fun to see landmarks like the stadium and river from 630 feet.
When you’re ready to return to the bottom of the Arch, line up for the next elevator rides down. This time gravity is on your side and the descent only takes three-minutes. People who fear heights and small, enclosed spaces may struggle with the Gateway’s “Journey to the Top.”
The inside of the Arch facility contains restrooms, drinking fountains, two gift shops and a small theater that plays the documentary Monument to the Dream every 45-minutes. A cafe and dock for riverboat cruises are also located on the park grounds. With temperatures hitting the 90’s, we skipped the dock and walked to the Old Courthouse.
You’ll find statues of Dred Scott and his wife outside the courthouse. Between 1847-1850, Dred Scott’s first two court trials in which he and his family sued for freedom from slavery took place here. At that time, a Missouri statute stated that “any person, black or white, held in wrongful enslavement could sue for freedom.”
Eventually, Scott’s case reached the United States Supreme Court which denied him citizenship solely because of the color of his skin and declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in 1857. This PBS essay states that after the Supreme Court verdict, Scott’s former master’s sons “purchased Scott and his wife and set them free.” He died nine months later.
The courthouse rotunda’s three floors are open for visitors to explore (currently, the courthouse’s elevator lift is out of service). There is also an exhibit on the first floor where we learned more about Dred and Harriet Scott through photographs, documents, and a film.
We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of learning about our new hometown. There are so many opportunities to learn about history, see art, listen to music, and dive into local food traditions. Like many have mentioned, we also appreciate that so many attractions are either free to visit or very affordable.
Our friends and family in the upper Midwest are always on our minds, but we’re truly having a lot of fun here. We hope you get to visit St. Louis sometime in your lifetime.