At first glance, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis might appear to be one of this country’s lamer attractions. As a kid, I put it next to Mount Rushmore on the list of boring stuff you read about on placemats, but when I finally saw the arch as an adult, I was impressed. Here’s why you shouldn’t underestimate it on your next trip through Missouri (or Illinois).
The arch is much bigger than you think. It stands 63 stories tall, 630 feet from top to bottom, and 630 feet from foot to foot. It’s made in large part of shimmering steel, gorgeous on a sunny day, and just approaching it on the highway will give you some perspective on its immense size. Like many epic structures, it was designed to sway ever so slightly in order to withstand severe winds, and it can survive an earthquake. It’s even hit by lightning on a regular basis.
There are expansive views at the top. You can ride to the top of the arch for only $10, and linger as long as you’d like. You’ll be greeted with up to 30-mile views over St. Louis and the Mississippi River, that iconic American waterway that runs broadly for 2,350 miles from northern Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico. For your planning purposes, there are no restrooms, snack bars, or other facilities in the observation deck.
There’s a free Museum of Westward Expansion. Since St. Louis was the “Gateway to the West,” there’s no better place to learn about Lewis and Clark’s famous 1804 expedition, in which they set out for the Pacific Ocean. This might make you feel like an elementary school kid again, but you’ll learn about the lifestyle of a pioneer—covered wagons, sod houses, and all—and more importantly, the struggle of the native tribes of the Great Plains, the Sioux being just one of many.
Have you been to the Gateway Arch?