RVing Gateway Arch National Park is easier and more accessible than in more remote national parks. In fact, this park is located in an urban setting, giving visitors unique opportunities to discover the important role St. Louis played in the Westward Expansion of the United States in the 19th century.
Why Visit Gateway Arch National Park in an RV?
Gateway Arch National Park is located along the banks of the Mississippi River in the heart of St. Louis. Because it’s in the city, parking can be a challenge at any time, regardless of your vehicle’s size. This makes setting up at a nearby RV park a great option, allowing travelers to visit the park using the bus or light rail.
The park’s main draw lies in its collection of US history – from Thomas Jefferson’s involvement in America’s push westward to the story of the Dred Scott trial, one of the most important court cases ever tried in the early history of the United States.
There’s also plenty to do in Missouri and Illinois, as this park is located right along the border of those two states. From riverboat cruises to museum tours, this region is brimming with the potential for urban exploration.
When to Visit Gateway Arch National Park
The park surrounding St. Louis’ 630-foot tall Gateway Arch is open year-round, excluding major holidays. The most popular time to visit runs from just before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, when the park’s hours run from 9 am to 8 pm. During the offseason, the park is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
The hours that the park are open are more important than in most others, as the visitor center must be open in order to access the tram ride to the top of the arch. Check the National Park’s website for up-to-date hours for the season you plan to visit.
Because many park attractions are indoors, visiting during the spring, fall, or winter provides opportunities to avoid crowds. Winter highs hover right around freezing, with roughly a 50/50 chance of sunshine versus cloud cover or precipitation.
By summer, highs are in the mid-to-upper 70s, with sunshine on nearly 70% of days. Consult the park’s website or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for more info on St. Lous weather trends.
Where to Stay
Due to its urban location, there are no campgrounds inside Gateway Arch National Park. Fortunately, nearby RV resorts and campgrounds allow you to set up your base camp and utilize a towed vehicle or public transportation to access the park.
Staying Outside the Park
If you’re looking for a place to camp near the Gateway Arch and need full hookups, here are a few options in the area:
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Tips for your Visit
- Research public transportation to and from the campground you choose. Ride-sharing apps are a more feasible option here than in most national parks.
- Book tram rides to the top of the Arch in advance. Reservations should be made ahead of time (especially if visiting during the peak season).
- Arrive at least 30 minutes in advance of your scheduled tram time.
- All visitors must pass through a security checkpoint before entering the park.
- There are no restrictions on bag size that can be brought into the park, but you must always keep your bags and other possessions with you.
- The top of the Arch is unfortunately NOT wheelchair accessible. You must ascend at least 96 steps to reach the top and descend safely. Learn more about accessibility at Gateway Arch National Park.
How to Get Around Gateway Arch National Park
The park is located near the convergences of Interstates 44, 55, 64, and 70. All visitors must enter the park through the west entrance facing Fourth Street and the Old Courthouse. The park exit is between the Gateway Arch legs.
Technically, there are no parking areas within the park boundaries. Nearby parking garages are your best option, such as the location at Stadium East. The park’s website offers the most current information for paid parking prices.
If visiting by RV, counting on a parking garage is unwise. Your best option is to arrange public transportation or a rideshare from your RV campground or park further away and utilize public transportation to access the national park.
The MetroLink regional transit system is a great option for getting to the park. There are also three bus drop-off areas on Memorial Drive, near Luther Ely Smith Square and near the Old Courthouse on Market Street, respectively.
Be aware that most parking facilities in the city are a significant walk from the park entrances. So, public transportation or a rideshare is your best option if you’re trying to reserve your steps for touring the park.
Places to Go
Put these main attractions on your itinerary, especially if it’s your first time visiting Gateway Arch National Park.
The Visitor Center
The visitor center should probably be your first stop in any park, but it’s a must when visiting Gateway Arch. It’s located directly underneath the Arch itself and includes the museum, theater, store, and cafe. Visitor center hours vary seasonally, so check the National Park Service’s website for current operating hours.
The museum under the Arch is the perfect place to continue your journey, especially if you’re a history buff. The exhibits contain intriguing information on more than 200 years of historical events. Peruse them in chronological order, or let curiosity be your guide.
The Top of the Arch
The view alone from America’s tallest monument is certainly worth riding the tram to the top. Guided tours require advance reservations and run for 45-60 minutes. For those that can’t reach the top due to accessibility, there’s also a live stream in the museum showcasing the view from above.
The Old Courthouse
Although currently under renovation, the Old Courthouse played a vital role in many cases throughout the 19th century. Listed in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, it holds much historical significance linking to the abolitionist movement and early legal challenges to slavery.
Check the NPS website for project updates to see when the courthouse will reopen.
Things To Do in Gateway Arch National Park
You can cover a lot of ground in one day at Gateway Arch. Here are some popular to-dos for first-time visitors:
Ride the Tram
The park’s tram system takes you to the top of the arch, where you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city and river below. Dick Bowser designed the system, despite having no formal education and only two weeks to do so. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind invention that transports up to 11,000 people in 14 hours. By combining principles used in the design of modern elevators with those of the carnival Ferris wheel, Bowser created a design that is without peerl.
Fill your time in the park with several self-guided tours along the river, through the Explorer’s Garden, near the Reflection Ponds, and more.
Here are a few to choose from:
Watch Monument to the Dream
If you visit on a hot summer day, cooling off and relaxing might be right up your alley. In that case, pop into the Tucker Theater to enjoy a screening of Monument to the Dream, a 35-minute film showcasing the efforts that architects, builders, and supporters endured to bring the Arch to life.
The park’s location is also a perfect launching point for cyclists. Several bike trails, including the Great Rivers Greenway, leave from or run through the park. Download a printable Bike St. Louis map or view the interactive map to plan bike routes during your visit.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
Because you can’t camp inside the park, you’ll have to pack for a day trip in and out. Here are a few items you should consider to prepare for a full day in the park.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes for a full day on your feet.
- Pack a camera to capture views from the top of the arch.
- Bring a daypack with snacks, water, layers, and anything else you need for a full day.
- The Arch Store and other nearby retailers offer snacks, souvenirs, books, gifts, and fresh homemade fudge.
- The Arch Cafe at the base is a restaurant and cafe offering farm-to-table meals and a coffee bar.
- Outdoor dining is available seasonally at nearby locations like the Paddlewheel Cafe.
Brief History of Gateway Arch National Park
Previously known as Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Arch, museum, and Old Courthouse officially became a national park in 2018. Unofficially, the Arch is known as the ‘Gateway to the West’.
The history of the Arch dates back to 1947 when a nationwide competition led to the selection of architect Eero Saarinen’s design for the 630-foot stainless steel arch. The Arch was designed to serve as a memorial to the spirit of western pioneers. Although Saarinen’s design was chosen that year, construction of the Arch didn’t begin until 1963. Two years later, the project was officially completed, coming in with a total budget of less than $15 million.
Two blocks to the west sits the Old Courthouse, the location for the first two trials in the Dred Scott case that occurred in 1847 and 1850. That case lasted for a decade, eventually giving momentum to the anti-slavery movement and serving as a pivotal stepping stone to the Civil War.
Today, the park is the premier location to learn about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Westward Expansion, and the fascinating history of the city of St. Louis.
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Have you visited St. Louis’ Gateway Arch National Park? Share your tips in the comments.