gateway arch national park

This trip to St. Louis was a departure from our normal meticulous planning; instead, we made a hasty decision in late August to visit Gateway Arch over Labor Day, influenced by the looming season of colds and potential masking requirements. The plans for driving 11 hours out (and back) then became entangled with a Labor Day celebration of my father-in-law’s 65th birthday, but in the end we made it to our 21st national park!

In preparation for our first trip to St. Louis, we dived in to the history of westward expansion. We got “How We Crossed the West: the Adventures of Lewis and Clark” for the kids, and read through “Of Courage Undaunted” as a family. This led to several books about the Pony Express and then an introduction to Ralph Moody’s series about growing up on a Colorado ranch.

Gateway Arch is unusual because it is in the middle of a city, like Hot Springs. It is completely run by a concessionaire offering documentary film showings, tram rides to the top of the arch, and Mississippi riverboat cruises. We chose the “everything” package, obviously, so we wouldn’t miss out on a single detail. The various activities are timed, which makes for a simple one-day schedule.

We roadtripped out toward St. Louis, feeling nostalgic as we passed the exit for Crossville, TN. The greater Bartos family traditionally gathered here for a week of golf and relaxation in August. Sadly, the family reunions have ended for now. “All good things must come to an end,” as Greg’s priestly Uncle Kris always says. We reached St. Louis by sundown, opting to stay overnight in a small nearby town instead of the murder capital of America. After a safe night’s sleep we drove into the city, with morning mist completely obscuring the arch until we were right underneath it. Our Gateway Arch is probably the closest thing we have to the Eiffel Tower – not quite as tall but close, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty and even the Washington Monument.

We found our prepaid parking in a downtown garage, walked a few blocks to the arch entrance, made it through airport-style security, and finally boarded the tram for our ride skyward. The design of tiny tram “pods” inside the legs of the arch is fascinating. The pods feel very space age, like something out of Star Trek, which is odd when you remember they were made 60 years ago. Riding to the top is a pretty cool experience and the berries loved it! The documentary, although not as exciting, was a very interesting look at the construction process. Again, hard to believe that much of the footage was filmed 60 years ago.

We picnicked next to a leg of the arch and then strolled down the historic Riverfront Trail and around the Explorer’s Garden. It was about this point that I seriously regretted not bringing a stroller to carry all of our stuff, not to mention Rachel! A riverfront cruise down the Mississippi was the last item on our itinerary for the day. It wasn’t exactly thrilling – we sat on sticky seats and crawled down the river at a snail’s pace – but there is something about being out on the actual Mississippi that feels like being part of history! Also, the view of the arch from the water is lovely.

Late afternoon, we made a quick run over to President Grant’s home on the west side of St. Louis before heading back to our hotel. It’s rare that you can fully experience a national park in just one day but I feel that Gateway Arch is one of those places!

We keep saying, “we’ve gone to all the parks within driving distance,” but as airline prices continue to rise, we may have more national park roadtrips in our future. Next up is Minnesota, in June 2023.


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