Gateway to the West – St Louis, Missouri

Our next stop was home to a feature that had long been on our bucket list, and we were able to check it off while in St. Louis.  Seeing the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch come into view for the first time put a smile on our faces, and taking the ride to the top totally made our day.  The Arch is located on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, and it was built as a monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.  It is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is located at the base of the Arch.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO
Silhouette of the Gateway Arch

To learn about the Arch, we first viewed a 40-minute movie that detailed its construction. The documentary was engrossing to watch, as it showed the overwhelming difficulties of building a curved structure from both ends simultaneously.  It’s amazing that no lives were lost, considering the complexity and heights involved.  The film also revealed the innovative construction techniques that were employed in the 1960’s on this one-of-a-kind project.  Click here for more information and a short animation of the Gateway Arch’s construction.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO
Steve is dwarfed by the base of the Arch’s south leg

The stainless steel arch is described as a sandwich made of stainless steel on the outside, carbon steel on the inside, with concrete in between them.  It is built in the form of an inverted catenary, a shape that a chain or necklace forms when held by the two ends.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO

But of course, the highlight of our visit was the 4-minute tram ride to the 630 ft. peak of the Arch.  Look carefully at the image below – the yellow arrow shows where the 16 small windows are on one side at the top.  These windows give a fabulous view of downtown St. Louis and beyond from one side of the Arch, and the 16 on the other side overlook the Mississippi River and many miles beyond it.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

We thought it might be an elevator that would take us to the top, but it was actually a small capsule-shaped transporter that seats five.  They call it a tram, and there is one on each end of the Arch (although the north tram was closed for construction work while we were there).  The trams run on a track inside the hollow curved legs of the Arch, taking folks to the top in four minutes.  It felt like we were riding a slow-motion ferris wheel, except that we were closed inside that small capsule.  This would not be a fun ride if you tend to be claustrophobic!

The views from the top were astounding!  It was a strange sensation looking straight down at the ground 630 feet below with no support in the middle.

Busch Stadium, St Louis, MO
Busch Stadium and downtown St. Louis to the north…

St Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO
…and the Mighty Mississippi to the south.  That’s Illinois on the other side of the river
Historic Old Courthouse
Looking down at the Arch’s shadow and the historic old courthouse
South Leg of the Gateway Arch
The Arch’s south leg.  You can definitely get a bit of vertigo up here!

After soaking in the views for a while, we rode back down and this time it was one minute faster – thanks to gravity!

Be sure to make advanced reservations to see the Arch if you plan to go during the busy summer season.  We had made reservations well in advance, but it turns out that we probably didn’t need to since we were here well after the kids were back in school.  It was great to have the viewing area pretty much to ourselves as we moved back and forth between the viewing windows.

Gateway Arch, St Louis
Check this one off the bucket list!

Beneath the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion, which charts the history of the American West from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to the closing of the frontier in the 1890’s.  Although it was a very informative display with original artifacts, we just skimmed through it as our main goal had been satisfied and we were getting hungry.

We enjoyed an excellent sushi lunch at the newly-opened Ballpark Village, located right at Busch Stadium and an easy walk from the Arch.  Visiting the Arch and eating sushi on the same day?  Steve was ecstatic!

Ballpark Village
Outdoor sushi lunch at the Drunken Fish in Ballpark Village – it doesn’t get much better than this!

Like any other metropolitan city, there is a lot to see and do in St. Louis.  But there was a forecast of bad weather ahead and we had only one day to take it all in.  So we walked around the city and quickly noticed that art is not just big downtown, but also at Grand Center and Forest Park.  We saw several public art displays and sculptures as we meandered through the city’s parks and gardens, below are some that caught our attention:

The runner of Kiener Plaza, St Louis Missouri
The runner of Kiener Plaza
Eros Bendato, Citygardesn St Louis
Eros Bendato at CityGarden

Missouri State Parks

We have been very happy and impressed while staying at two of Missouri’s state parks – the Dr. Edmund Babler Memorial State Park (our home base while visiting St. Louis, Steve’s review here) and Meramec State Park (review here).  With summer over, it’s been a delight once again staying at state parks.  Although they still get quite busy on weekends, we have enjoyed being one of the few rigs in the park most of the time.  We’re able to use the facilities without running into other people, and the same goes for our hikes on the many nice trails here.  And the variety of beautiful birds at Babler State Park!  I was happy to refill my feeder every day as we saw so many of our feathered friends fighting for a spot on it.

Babler State Park
We were the only ones in this section of the park during most of our stay

At Meramic State Park we were parked beneath many tall trees.  Except for the birds and the rustling of leaves, the silence was deafening.  Perfect!

Meramec State Park
Section #1 at Meramec State Park, doesn’t Betsy look lonely out there?
Fisher Cave
Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park, just one of 6,000 caves in Missouri.  It was closed for the season by the time we arrived
Just hubby and I on this 6-mile hike – we never saw another soul!

Our two stops in Missouri were a combination of a visit to a cosmopolitan city, followed by getting back to nature while hitting the trails again.  Although we had a couple of days of bad weather during these stops, we have to agree that it was “mission accomplished” during our stay in the “Show Me” state.




  1. Thanks so much for sharing your travels — I’m taking notes and when I hit the road in 4 years, you’ll have really helped the planning!

  2. Super first photo.

    We really enjoyed our stop in St. Louis also. Wish I knew you were going there, they have the best Howl At The Moon we have ever been to.

    The state park looks awesome. I put it on my Pinterest. Nice to know the silence was deafening. Right down our alley.

  3. Love the pics! Visiting the Arch is on our list of to do things in St. Louis as well. Our full timing starts next year. Thanks for the information you provide in your blog as it will help us when our travels begin.

  4. I had no idea there was anything more to do at the Arch than look at it. I have an “attitude” about cities so we drove through St. Louis as quickly as we could one Sunday morning. Thanks for showing me the arch and taking me to the top. Beautiful state parks. You sure are in the right place for this time of year in terms of empty parks. The ones on the east coast, not so much.

  5. Great review of Babler and Meramec as well as the Arch. Yep there is SO much in St. Louis and the MSA to see and do you could have spent a month there and still not see it all. Glad things worked out well at Meramec.

  6. Looks like you enjoyed your stay in Missouri. I’ve flown over and driven by the Arch many a time but have always taken a pass on the inside tour of the Arch. Your tour was perfect – thank you. Isn’t it great not battling crowds?

  7. Hi, I live in the St. Louis area and your pictures captured it in a way I never noticed. Funny how when you see something all the time you don’t notice it like a guest does. You captured everything so beautifully! I went to the top of the Arch as a teenager but have never been up again as an adult and I am 50 years old now, your pictures make me want to do that again some time.

  8. Thanks for taking me up in the arch and letting me see what I missed. I’m glad I didn’t go, (the height alone would have made me lose lunch!) but I’m glad you satisfied my curiosity. Your photos were wonderful, you really captured the size and scale of it. The state parks you stayed in looked like ones we would very much enjoy and I loved the photos of the whimsical public art installations. All in all a great post – Thanks for sharing your trip.

  9. What a nice treat to be the on,y ones at the state parks…quiet is nice! Love the bird photos. We haven’t visited St. Louis yet…hope to one day! Pictures from the arch are awesome!

  10. I’m with Sue! Thanks for showing me what I missed when I dove out of the egg before it took off:) I do believe they have updated the eggs since we were there 23 years ago for the ride up in the arch. But they don’t look any roomier. You certainly captured some great photos of the arch. Wasn’t it fun seeing it from different angles and with different light!

  11. Isn’t that tram inside the Arch something else. We visited in the fall of 1991 when we were making the move from Utah to DC … had just a few hours to spare on the long drive, and it was worth every minute of the detour.

  12. Wow, you two always take me places that I might not otherwise go — I don’t think I could stand to be cooped up in that little capsule, but it was fun seeing it from your perspective! Great photos of the nuthatch and pileated, too.

  13. We see that structure a lot on TV but I was unaware you could go to the top of it…. love the photos… but then I love everything about this blog…

  14. Great photos!! We also use Babler when we stop in St. Louis to visit our kids and grandkids.

  15. Too bad your timing is a tad off. Next week the SF Giants will be beating up on the St Louis Cardinals once more! Right there in Busch Stadium. ;=)

  16. It has been years since I have been up in the arch so this was a particularly fun post for me. I recall going during a very busy time and would love to go back and experience it when there are fewer visitors. Glad you were able to check something off your bucket list. 🙂

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