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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gateway Arch and The Museum of Westward Expansion

I apologize ahead of time for the picture heaviness of this post.  When I was researching the Gateway Arch I found a lot of basic information on it but not the information I was looking for.  Like how small are the trams to the top?  I obsess about stuff like that when planning a trip, the little things, I want to know exactly how my trip and each attraction is going to go.  I think I have OCD when it comes to planning a trip, but we will save that for another post.  In this post I am talking about our experience at the Gateway Arch.

I will start off by saying that St. Louis did not leave me impressed.  I have been to many large cities, and had high hopes for St. Louis but let's just say it didn't meet them at all. 

We visited the weekend before Easter (and luckily the weekend before tornadoes hit the area) in mid-April and unfortunately it was very cold.  The parking lot for the Arch is sort of hid, so be sure to get directions before heading there.  If you don't get directions it is still okay since there are signs marking the way.  Parking in the garage is $6 for the day.

Once you are in the garage you will have to walk to the Arch.  It's not a short walk, but it's not a mile long either.  I wish I knew exactly how long it was, but just be prepared for a walk.

When we visited only the North side of the Arch was open.  It appears that this is normal.  Before entering the Arch and The Museum of Westward Expansion (which is located in the base of the Arch) you must go through a security checkpoint.  You will have to turn over your cell phone, purse, and remove your belt (which is a pain so if you can skip the belt skip it).  When we arrived around 10 AM there was a very small line and we were through the checkpoint in no time, however as we were leaving around 1:30 - 2:00 PM there was a very, very large line.

In case you are wondering here is what the tram car looks like

Believe me it's really, really small.   

Each tram car will hold five people.  And it's not a smooth ride to the top like an elevator.  The tram car is climbing steps, and rotates along the way.  The ride is not scary, and I am not trying to scare you.  I am just trying to prepare you for what to expect.

Once you get to the top you will still need to climb about fifty steps to get to the top of the Arch.

And I took a few pictures to show you what it looks like inside the top.

These are the viewing windows that line the top of the arch.

And as you can see there is not a lot of room at the top.  The ceiling is low.

While you are at the top there is a sway.  The Arch sways from side to side, and then again from front to back.  This sway made my son sick to his stomach.

However, the view from the top is totally amazing.

So totally worth the nail biting to get to the top.  Believe me! 

At the bottom of the Arch you will find The Museum of Westward Expansion.  I took several pictures there but they didn't take very well due to the poor lighting.  The museum is really neat, with exhibits on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the westward expansion that occured afterwards.

In addition to the museum there are two films that visitors can view.  One is a really neat National Geographic movie on Lewis and Clark while the other is a documentary that tells how the Arch was built.  We watched the Lewis and Clark film before going through the museum which was great because the kids were then able to match up the exhibits in the museum to the movie.  It was a great educational tool.

Here's what you need to know to make the best of your trip:

  • There are no restaurants at the Arch.  There are vending machines for soft drinks, and there is a Mercantile store that sells candy, cookies, and other small munchies.
  • Wear comfortable shoes you will be doing a fair amount of walking.
  • The park offers a Junior Ranger program that allows kids to complete a scavenger hunt to earn their Junior Ranger badge.  Ask about this at the information desk.
  • You can purchase tickets to the Arch at the museum, online, or by phone.
Here's how we rated the Gateway Arch and The Museum of Westward Expansion:

Although we were not impressed by St. Louis we were very impressed with the Arch and museum.  It was a highlight of our trip, and something I definetly recommend visiting.  The entire family enjoyed the experience, which doesn't always happen.

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