Journey to the Top: Tips for Visiting the Gateway Arch, St Louis

Back in 2011 when I drove the length of Route 66 with my family, we were gutted that by the time we reached St Louis (Missouri), there were no available tickets left on sale for that day to go to the top of the Gateway Arch.  It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a giant 630ft silver archway that is the ‘Gateway to the West’ for those crossing the Mississippi River.  When I returned a couple of weekends back, I had my fingers crossed that the same wouldn’t happen again!  Luck was on my side and I was finally able to experience it.

At the time of visiting in September 2016, there was a lot of construction work in the park area around the base of the arch.  To be honest, it looks like it’s shut…a lot of people we spoke to had said they had thought the same.  I think this helped when it came to getting tickets!

We were given a ticket for 1.55pm and told we could enter no earlier than 30 minutes before, which was great considering it was 1.20pm!  This turned out to not be so great.

You can enter the area under the arch 30 minutes before the ticket time, but this doesn’t give access to the line for the Tram to the top, you have to wait for the time on the ticket!

After passing through a security check point (just like an airport but I was allowed to keep my bottle of water), we then had 30 minutes to kill wandering round the gift shop.  There are 2 trams, one in the North arch and one in the South that leave around every 10 minutes.  TV’s display which ticket times are being accepted to join the line for the trams.

This line takes ANOTHER 30 minutes.  We had been underground for an hour before even getting near the top!

Be prepared for another ‘green screen’ photo that American tourist attractions love so much (I find them a huge embarrassment, I only like having my photo taken on my terms).  A guide will give a couple of facts about the arch…

  • It opened in 1967
  • It cost $13 million
  • It’s 630ft high
  • It’s considered a National Park
  • It is designed to sway 9 inches in the wind…yup in high winds it moves.

Altogether there are 8 tram capsules that go up each leg of the archway.  5 people are squished into each capsule.  This surprised me, I just always imagined it as being 1 lift going to the top but it really was almost like a miniature train!  When I say squished, you really are squished in, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, head almost scraping on the roof!  There’s a reason they ask you if you are claustrophobic when you first buy the ticket! There’s not much space for larger backpacks.  (See picture below, I’m 5’4″ and my head is on the roof!)Top of the Gateway Arch

The ride to the top takes around 4 minutes, the door has a little window in, however the view is only of the emergency stairs!  It’s very creaky and the capsules do rotate slightly to match the curve of the archway, the comparison is similar to the movement of a ferris wheel.

The observation deck is fairly narrow with small windows where you lay on your belly to look out.  One side of the arch looks over Missouri and the west, the other looks over the Mississippi River, Illinois and the East.  For the small space and the amount of people at the top, the wait for a window is never too long.

View from Gateway Arch

The journey down is 1 minute quicker (great news for anyone that decides they ARE claustrophobic once they reach the top!) and there was no line to get back down again.

The ticket to the top is $13 for an adult and $10 for a child.  It also includes entrance to the Museum of Westward expansion  which is currently on display at the Old Courthouse due to the renovation and construction work.

Journey to the Top St Louis Gateway Arch

Do you have a favourite observation deck?  Is the tram capsule something you’d brave? Let me know in the comments below!

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