Many travelers have National Parks on their bucket lists. Some want to visit them all; others want to hit the most popular ones. Perhaps the Gateway Arch is on your bucket list.
But did you know that the Gateway Arch is the smallest National Park in the United States?
Although the monument dates back to 1965, the area didn’t become a National Park until 2018. Let’s learn more about the smallest National Park in America!
Where Is the Smallest National Park in the USA?
Located in St. Louis, MO, near the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch symbolizes America’s westward expansion. It’s the tallest structure in Missouri. You can easily reach the National Park via Interstates 44, 55, 64, and 70.
Visitors must enter through the west entrance, facing Fourth Street and the Old Courthouse. The Gateway Arch is also easily accessible from St. Louis’ MetroLink Lightrail.
Just How Small Is the Gateway Arch?
The width from the north leg to the south portion of the Gateway Arch is 630 feet. The maximum height is also 630 feet. The observation platform can hold up to 140 people. The stainless steel exterior of the Gateway Arch weighs 886 tons, while the total weight of the monument exceeds 5,190 tons. Its foundations are 60 feet into the ground, and architects built it to withstand earthquakes and high winds.
However, the Gateway Arch isn’t the only part of this National Park. The National Park includes the Gateway Arch, 91 acres of land along the Mississippi River at the Missouri-Illinois border, the Old Courthouse, and a museum.
History Of the Gateway Arch
In the 1930s, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association began planning a park to honor Thomas Jefferson. The site of the Gateway Arch is near the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association chose this area to honor Jefferson’s accomplishments during his Presidency.
They also wanted to memorialize the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent exploration, the first civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the debate over slavery raised by the Dred Scott case in the Old Courthouse.
Over the next two decades, they put work on hold because of World War II and the Korean War, but the design and plans were progressing. In 1961, excavation finally began. In 1963, workers set the first stainless steel triangle on the south leg. By 1965, they had completed the Gateway Arch, costing approximately $15 million. The following year it was on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2015, builders finished the Gateway Arch Connector, linking the Old Courthouse with the grounds of the arch. In 2018, President Trump signed the law redesignating the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as Gateway Arch National Park.
How to Get to the Gateway Arch
The Gateway Arch National Park is easily accessible. From Interstate 44 East/55 North, take exit 292 and head downtown via Pine Street. On Interstate 64 East, take exit 40 and head downtown via Fourth Street. From Interstate 70 East, take exit 249B onto Market Street, which will take you downtown.
On Memorial Drive between Walnut and Market Streets and Chestnut and Pine Streets, metered parking is first-come-first-served. There’s a parking garage on Broadway between Walnut Street and Clark Avenue. There are also multiple MetroLink stations downtown.
You can take the MetroLink, the MetroBus, or the #99 Downtown Trolley to the Gateway Arch. All visitors must pass through an airport-style security checkpoint upon arrival at the National Park.
What You Can Do At the Gateway Arch
Although the Gateway Arch is the central attraction of the National Park, there are other things to do. You can spend all day or just a couple of hours exploring the grounds of the smallest National Park in the United States. Currently, the Old Courthouse is closed due to renovations.
Grab Lunch At the Arch Cafe
The Arch Cafe features farm-to-table dishes. The website explains, “In keeping with our commitment to the environment and the people we serve, our organic food is sustainably sourced and exceptionally prepared for your enjoyment.” Enjoy a juicy cheeseburger or veggie burger.
Savor a half rack of St. Louis ribs. Healthier options like a mozzarella and tomato panini or a salad are also available. The Arch Cafe is open from 9 am to 4 pm during the winter, and 9 am to 6 pm in the summer.
Visit the Museum
The Museum at the Gateway Arch opened on July 3, 2018. The six museum galleries are Colonial St. Louis, Jefferson’s Vision, New Frontiers, The Riverfront Era, Manifest Destiny, and Building the Dream.
Start in the Colonia St. Louis gallery, where you’ll learn about the Indigenous and Creole culture of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase. Finish your tour at the Building the Dream gallery to discover how the Gateway Arch was built.
Take the Tram Ride to the Top
You can’t visit the Gateway Arch National Park without taking the tram ride to the top of the arch. The panoramic views are stunning. The unique design of the tram is also worth the ride. It’s like taking a trip into the future.
These capsules combine the elevator principle and the Ferris wheel principle to transport guests through the curvature of the arch. Each capsule rotates approximately 155 degrees during the trip, and they hold five passengers at a time. During the journey to the top, passengers can see the arch interior through small windows.
Once guests reach the observation deck, they can stay as long as they want, gazing out the 16 windows looking east over the Mississippi River and the 16 windows looking west over the city of St. Louis.
Tram ticket prices vary depending on the day of your visit. Adult tickets are $15-19. Children ages 3-15 are $11-15. An adult ticket with the America the Beautiful pass is $12-16. You can purchase advanced tickets online.
Watch “Monument To The Dream” At Tucker Theater
Be inspired by the determination of the men who brought Eero Saarinen’s design to life. According to the National Park Service website, “This 28-minute film documents the construction and meaning of the Gateway Arch and is shown daily at Tucker Theater in the Gateway Arch Visitor Center.” It’s shown on the hour every hour, starting at 9 am in the winter, and 10 am in the summer. The last showing is 5 pm during the winter and 7 pm during the summer.
Adult tickets are $7, while children ages 3-15 are $3. An adult ticket with the America the Beautiful pass is only $4. You can purchase advanced tickets online. If you’re interested in riding the tram and watching the film, there is also a combo ticket.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Gateway Arch?
Free ranger-led tours, lasting about 45 minutes, are given regularly. The entrance fee to visit Gateway Arch National Park is $3 for visitors age 16 and up. America the Beautiful and other National Parks pass holders can visit for free.
The park grounds are open year-round from 5 am to 11 pm. The museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm during the winter, and 9 am to 8 pm during the summer. The spring and summer are the busiest times.
Is the Gateway Arch Worth Visiting?
The Gateway Arch National Park is one of America’s national treasures. It honors President Thomas Jefferson and his accomplishments, and it recognizes a part of America’s past that helped us become the country we are today. Although it’s the smallest National Park in the county, it’s well worth a visit. There’s much to learn about our westward expansion, and the Gateway Arch opens the door for all of us to discover more about our past.
Have you visited this iconic location?
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