The Arch is part of the larger Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the surrounding grounds, the Old Courthouse and the subterranean theater and museum directly below the Arch’s span.
In the stampede to the top, many visitors skip these other sites, which is a mistake. The Museum of Westward Expansion goes a long way toward explaining St. Louis’ role as the “Gateway to the West,” a designation that is central to the idea and design of the Arch itself. The museum covers everything from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to Major League Baseball’s expansion beyond the Mississippi River. Your kids may especially enjoy watching several life-size “animatronic” figures as they help tell the story of America’s westward movement.
Adjacent to the museum is the theater where visitors can watch “Monument to the Dream,” a film about the construction of the Arch. It’s more than a bit dated and starts off slowly, but the film becomes increasingly dramatic (and vertigo-inducing) as it progresses. Still, at nearly a half-hour in length, it’s likely to challenge the patience of even the most placid youngster.
Of course, the main event is the Arch itself. More than a million guests ride trams to the top each year where they experience unparalleled views of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. But as anyone who has ever taken that ride can tell you, the journey can be as exhilarating as the destination.
The tram’s cars are like something out of a sci-fi film from the 1960s: Brightly lit, barrel-shaped pods that seat five in a space that should hold no more than three. The ride to the top is somewhat less “space age” in nature. The pods bump, sway and groan throughout the four-minute journey while their occupants exchange nervous smiles.
Of course the view from the 630-foot summit makes it all worthwhile. On a clear day, visitors can see nearly 30 miles, taking in municipalities and sites far beyond the city limits. Uniformed park rangers are on hand to answer any questions.
Between the museum, film and trip to the top, families should allot several hours for a visit. Kids ages 5 to 13 are encouraged to pick up and complete a Junior Ranger Activity Book, available at the Information Desk. It will help keep them engaged during your visit and will improve their understanding of both the museum and the Arch. Plus they’ll love the badges they receive upon completion.
Lines for the trams can be long and unpredictable, but early mornings seem a good bet for minimizing wait time. The Arch is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Memorial Day with expanded hours in the summer. Tram tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 3 to 15. The museum is free, but there is a small charge for the film. Garage parking is $6.
St. Louis Riverfront
St. Louis, MO 63102
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