Travel Tips: Taking Kids to the Arch in St. Louis

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pricing and hours are accurate as of February 2020. 

You can’t talk about a visit to the city of St. Louis without talking about visiting the iconic Gateway Arch. The 630-foot-tall monument celebrating America’s westward expansion is a must-see if you are passing through this city in the Midwest. If you have kids, it’s a trip they’ll remember for a long time.

Hours

The Gateway Arch is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily during the summer, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during the winter. Park grounds are open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. year round.

Another attraction that is part of the Arch complex is the Old Courthouse (site of the famous Dred Scott case of 1857), which is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. In addition, there are the Riverboats at the Gateway Arch, offering cruises at various times daily March through November.

How to Get There

Gateway Arch

You can drive or take public transit to the Arch. If at all possible, I recommend public transit on St. Louis’ Metrolink trains because parking downtown is limited and can get expensive. Metrolink is inexpensive and fairly easy to navigate with children (who ride at a reduced price). To visit the Arch, you can exit the train at the 8th and Pine station and navigate a few blocks on foot through downtown, approaching the Arch from the northwest, or you can exit the train at the Laclede’s Landing station (the last station before the train crosses the Mississippi River into Illinois) and walk south through the park to the Arch entrance.

If you choose to drive, the Arch website has more information on downtown parking options here.

Tickets

You can choose from several ticket packages. Information and prices are accurate as of January 2020. Prices vary depending on the date of your visit and whether it’s a peak time such as a weekend or holiday or a non-peak time such as a weekday, with peak times costing more. The Arch website says tickets sometimes sell out on busy days. You can purchase tickets on site or in advance on the website, so if you know you’re going to be there during a peak time it may be prudent to purchase tickets in advance.

My family visited on the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, and the Arch was quiet that day. We were not the only visitors, but it was far from crowded. We walked right up to the ticket counter and purchased tickets, went through security within five minutes (they advise you to allow up to 30 minutes to get through security on busy days), and were soon on our way up to the top of the Arch. We opted to do just the Tram Ride to the Top ticket. Between the tram ride and time spent looking at museum exhibits on the ground floor, we filled up most of our morning.

Adult tickets are for people 16 and older, while children’s tickets are for ages 3-15. Ticket packages and starting prices include:

  • See Everything Combo, starting at $33 for adults and $18 for children. This includes a tram ride to the top of the Arch, a documentary movie, and a one-hour cruise on the St. Louis riverfront.
  • Tram and Cruise Combo, starting at $29 for adults and $15 for children. Includes a tram ride to the top and one-hour cruise on the St. Louis riverfront.
  • Tram and Movie Combo, starting at $16 for adults and $11 for children. Includes a tram ride to the top and documentary movie.
  • Tram Ride to the Top, starting at $12 for adults and $8 for children.
  • Documentary Movie, starting at $7 for adults and $3 for children.
  • St. Louis Riverfront Cruise, starting at $19 for adults and $8 for children.
Gateway Arch
Walking through the museum in the lower level at the Arch.

When you purchase tickets, you also get access to a museum on the underground level below the Arch, and it is well worth spending some time in. The Arch grounds and museum were remodeled a few years ago, and they are greatly improved. The museum includes information on the St. Louis region’s history and celebrates America’s westward expansion era. It features many interactive hands-on exhibits that engage both children and adults. My kids especially enjoyed a game played on a touchscreen in which you outfit a family with supplies for a trip out west, sort of a modern version of the old video game Oregon Trail.

The Ride to the Top

Gateway Arch 3
The view from the top. (Click to enlarge.)

Of course, the main event during a visit to the Arch is the tram ride to the top and time spent taking in the view from 630 feet up.

Just before your designated time listed on your ticket, you’ll gather at a specified tram loading zone (trams are loaded at both the north and south sides of the Arch). If you have a stroller, this is likely where you will leave it temporarily until you return from your ride to the top. You’ll be led down a passageway where you’ll stand while watching a brief video related to popular culture and politics in the U.S. during the 1960s when the Arch was constructed, and an employee will share facts and take questions regarding the Arch and its construction. After a few minutes, the trams will arrive, and people returning back to ground level will disembark from the tram cars. Then you’ll step in.

There are eight tram cars on each side of the Arch, and each car holds five people. It’s a snug fit. You’ll step through a four-foot door, minding your head, and find a spot on a small seat, with fellow riders’ legs all together in the middle of the car. Some people compare the tram cars to giant eggs or dryer barrels (like what you dry your laundry in). By the way, when you purchase your tickets at the Arch entrance, they will ask if anyone in your group is claustrophobic or afraid of heights. I don’t like heights where I don’t feel secure, such as on a ladder or rooftop, but I’m fine inside tall buildings, and the Arch does not bother me.

The inside of the tram cars is white and well lit, and when the door closes on your car, there is an observation window that provides a view of the inner workings of the Arch as you ride to the top. Since you can’t see down very far when you look out the window, it’s really not a scary ride if anyone in your group is afraid of heights. Once you are seated, you are allowed to take photos and videos, but employees ask that you refrain from using cameras while loading and unloading from the tram.

St. Louis Gateway Arch
Looking out of the windows at the top.

The ride to the top takes just a few minutes, and it feels like a cross between an elevator and a Ferris wheel. When you reach the top, you’ll walk up a few steps and into the observation area, which has a sloped and carpeted floor and is lined with long short windows on both sides. You’re allowed to hang out in the observation area as long as you want, but be aware there are no restrooms, water fountains, or food there. When our family visited, we remained at the top for 15-20 minutes, and that was plenty of time to take in the view. When you’re ready to go back down, an attendant will guide you toward a waiting area where you can board the tram down.

Where to Eat

The Arch Cafe is located on the Arch grounds, near the gift shop, restrooms, and tram area. It’s a cafeteria-style operation with a variety of sandwiches, chicken, and St. Louis classics such as toasted ravioli. They advertise locally sourced, organic, and vegetarian options.

Reviews of the Arch Cafe on Google were middling at the time of our family’s visit, so we opted to eat instead at a deli called Pickles just a few blocks from the Arch. I highly recommend it, and they have a wide range of sandwiches along with several salads and soup options. They even have kid-friendly options such as peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and hot dogs.

There are plenty of other casual, inexpensive to mid-priced dining options downtown, from chains such as TGI Fridays, Jimmy John’s, and The Old Spaghetti Factory to more local fare such as Imo’s Pizza (a St. Louis classic), Chili Mac’s Diner, or Bailey’s Range (selling burgers), and there are dining options at Ballpark Village across from nearby Busch Stadium. There’s even an upscale option with Ruth’s Chris Steak House practically adjacent to the Arch grounds.

There are enough food choices that it’s a good idea to personally research and map out your options before you visit the Arch, but it’s also fine to explore downtown and walk until you find someplace that looks good.

Additional Tips for Families With Kids:

  • If you opt just to do the tram ride to the top of the Arch and to view the museum on the lower level, plan for that to take about two hours on a non-peak day, more or less depending on how much time you want to spend reading the museum information. If you do additional activities such as the movie
  • Strollers are allowed everywhere except in the trams and on the observation deck at the top of the Arch. Strollers can be parked at the tram ride loading zones. Because of the volume of strollers, people are advised to label their strollers with names and addresses.
  • There are no restrooms, water fountains, or places to buy food at the top of the Arch, so plan accordingly.
  • Because the Arch can get busy on weekends and holidays, consider visiting during a non-peak time for a less stressful adventure with young children.
  • There is a gift shop on the lower level near the Arch Cafe, the tram loading zones, and the restrooms.

What are your tips for visiting the Gateway Arch with kids? Share them in the comments below.

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