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An Overlander’s Guide to Gateway Arch National Park 

 September 18, 2023

By  Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

Gateway Arch National ParkGateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri is an iconic monument and integral part of the American Midwest.

As the tallest arch in the world at 630 feet tall, the Gateway Arch is a can’t-miss attraction for any overlander passing through the area.

Located along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch anchors the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and provides a window into St. Louis’ role as the “Gateway to the West” during America’s westward expansion in the 1800s.

While the arch itself offers plenty to see and do, the surrounding 91-acre park provides overlanders ample recreation opportunities right in the heart of downtown St. Louis.

Read on for an overlander’s guide to making the most out of a visit to Gateway Arch National Park.

Getting to Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National ParkGateway Arch National Park is located right along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. The iconic arch is visible from miles around, making it easy to spot as you approach the city.

If you’re coming from the east or west along I-70, take exit 247A to merge onto I-55 N/I-44 E toward Downtown St. Louis. Follow signs for Memorial Drive, which will take you right to the Gateway Arch and the park entrance.

From the north, take I-55 S which turns into I-44 W/I-70 E as you near downtown. Take exit 247B for Memorial Drive and head south to reach the arch.

If coming from the south on I-55, simply take the Memorial Drive exit (exit 187A) and head north. The arch will come into view within a few minutes.

There is metered street parking around the park, though spots fill up quickly.

The Gateway Arch Parking Garage offers 950 parking spots steps from the arch and museum for a fee. Overlanders with RVs can utilize the Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park, just across the river in Illinois, which offers shuttle service to the arch.

Best Time to Visit

Due to its prime downtown location, Gateway Arch National Park stays relatively busy year-round. Peak visiting season runs from May through October.

The most pleasant weather brings visitors between April and June as well as September and October. With mild temperatures and smaller crowds, these shoulder seasons are ideal times for overlanders to explore the park.

Summers here are hot and humid, though early mornings and evenings offer some relief. Winters are cold with occasional snow and ice storms.

Overlanders should avoid winter storms, but brisk days with bright blue skies show off the arch beautifully.

Park hours vary seasonally, but generally operate from 9am to 6pm in summer and 9am to 5pm in winter.

Camping Options

Full view of Gateway Arch National ParkWith its urban location, dispersed camping is not permitted within Gateway Arch National Park. However, there are plenty of camping options located a short drive from the city center.

Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park

Just 10 minutes from the arch, Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park provides full hookup sites and free shuttle service over to the park. Tent campers are also welcome.

Jellystone Park – St. Louis

This family-friendly campground has tent sites, full hookup RV sites, and cabin rentals 30 minutes from the arch. Amenities include a pool, splash pad, bike rentals, and planned activities.

Pere Marquette State Park

Nature lovers will appreciate the hiking and fishing opportunities at Pere Marquette State Park’s campgrounds, located 40 minutes from St. Louis.

Mark Twain Lake

Mark Twain Lake offers primitive shoreline camping and full hookup RV sites an hour from the city with boat ramp access for water recreation.

Overlanders staying in St. Louis can also utilize Boondockers Welcome or iOverlander to find free or low-cost boondocking spots on private property.

Must-See Attractions

Beyond the iconic arch, Gateway Arch National Park packs numerous attractions into its 91 acres. Here are some must-see activities:

  • Tram Ride to the Top: Journey to the arch’s observation deck via a unique tram system that follows the curve of the monument.
  • Museum of Westward Expansion: This underground museum covers Lewis & Clark’s expedition, pioneers’ wagon trains, and St. Louis history.
  • Old Courthouse: See where the famous Dred Scott slavery case was argued in this restored 19th century courthouse.
  • Riverfront: Walk, bike, or picnic along the Mississippi Riverfront Trail below the arch.
  • Documentary Movie: Learn about the arch’s engineering and construction via the “Monument to the Dream” feature film.

The park offers rotating exhibits and Ranger programs as well, providing overlanders plenty to experience across multiple visits. And the city beyond offers live music, museums, cuisine, and more to enjoy.

Leave No Trace

Gateway Arch National ParkAs overlanders, we all have a responsibility to leave each place better than we found it and minimize our impact on the environment. Here are some tips for practicing Leave No Trace principles in Gateway Arch National Park:

  • Pack out all trash – no littering or dumping. Recycle in the designated bins.
  • Keep wildlife wild – don’t feed or approach any wild animals.
  • Stay on marked trails and don’t take “shortcuts” that can damage vegetation.
  • Graffiti and carving are never acceptable. Avoid leaving “tracks” that impact others’ experience.
  • Keep noise levels down out of respect for other visitors.
  • Obtain proper permits and follow all park regulations.
  • Leave each campsite cleaner than you found it. Fully extinguish any fire pits.
  • Stick to existing fire rings if having fires. Choose local wood that is dead/downed.
  • When washing dishes or yourself, avoid soaps that can pollute water sources. Strain out food bits.
  • Use restroom facilities or dig proper cat holes >200 ft from water sources. Bury waste fully.

We all have a duty to be mindful stewards of our national parks. Following Leave No Trace ensures these special places remain pristine for future generations to enjoy.

Connecting with the Local Culture

Beyond the park, downtown St. Louis offers many opportunities to connect with the culture, history, and energy of this Midwest city. Here are some ways overlanders can tap into the local vibe:

  • Attend a Baseball Game: Cheer on the storied St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in the lively Ballpark Village district.
  • Listen to Live Music: Blues, jazz, rock, bluegrass – St. Louis has it all. Check events calendars for local venues at BB’s.
  • Explore the Neighborhoods: From the hipster haunts of Cherokee Street to historic Soulard, Lafayette Square and The Hill, the city’s neighborhoods beg to be wandered.
  • Sample the Barbecue: St. Louis BBQ is legend – don’t skip local joints like Pappy’s Smokehouse or Sugarfire Smoke House.
  • Visit the City Museum: This creative, artistic scrap metal maze is unlike any museum you’ve experienced. Kids and adults love the hands-on exhibits.
  • Take a Brewery Tour: Schlafly, 4 Hands, and Urban Chestnut are just a few of the amazing craft breweries calling St. Louis home.
  • Check Out the Nightlife: Lively clubs with live tunes, hip cocktail lounges, and chill local dive bars make for great nights out.

Nearby Attractions

Downtown St. Louis as seen from Gateway Arch National ParkWith the arch marking St. Louis’ place as the Gateway to the West, it makes a great starting point to explore some fantastic Midwest attractions nearby. Here are top spots worth adding to your overland itinerary:

North:

South:

  • Mark Twain National Forest (1.5 hours) – Offers outfitter rentals for Ozark float trips plus hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Dispersed camping available.
  • Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park (1.5 hours) – Swim, hike and camp in this picturesque park showcasing rocky gorges formed by the Black River.
  • Elephant Rocks State Park (1.5 hours) – Giant boulder formations make for fun exploring and rock climbing.

West:

  • Kansas City, MO (4 hours) – Historic landmarks, great BBQ, jazz clubs, museums, and more to experience.
  • Abilene, KS (6 hours) – Pay your respects at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

Making the most of a visit to the Gateway Arch means taking time to also experience St. Louis’ culture, entertainment, and flavors. With endless Midwest adventures awaiting, the arch marks the perfect starting point.

Conclusion

Gateway Arch National Park provides overlanders much more than just the iconic arch to appreciate. Outdoor recreation along the Mississippi, exhibits detailing St. Louis’ pivotal role in Manifest Destiny, and the lively metropolis beyond offer many ways to make the most out of visiting this “Gateway to the West.”

Following proper Leave No Trace ethics allows these natural and cultural resources to remain unspoiled for future generations.

Whether you are just passing through or spending several days overlanding, a stop at the soaring Gateway Arch promises adventure, insight, and fun.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main attractions at Gateway Arch National Park?

The top attractions are the Gateway Arch tram ride to the observation deck, the Museum of Westward Expansion, the Old Courthouse, the Mississippi riverfront, and the “Monument to the Dream” documentary film about the arch’s construction.

How much does it cost to visit Gateway Arch National Park?

The park grounds are free and open to the public. There are fees for the tram ride, museum, film, and certain ranger programs. Discounts are available.

When was the Gateway Arch built?

Construction took place between 1963 and 1965. The arch was designed by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and officially completed on October 28, 1965.

What is the best view of the arch?

Photographers flock to get shots from the Arch Grounds along the river. Kiener Plaza by the Old Courthouse and the Poplar Street Bridge are also popular arch viewpoints.

Where can I park an RV near Gateway Arch National Park?

Overlanders can check availability at the Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park, which offers shuttle service to the arch just across the river in Illinois. Jellystone Park and St. Louis West KOA also offer RV sites a short drive away.

How long should I plan to spend visiting the park?

At least 3-4 hours allows you to ride the tram, explore the museum, walk the grounds, and see attractions like the courthouse. Add more time to take one of the ranger tours or cruise the riverboats.

Have you visited Gateway Arch National Park? If so, what did I miss in this overlander’s guide?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks for your input! It is greatly appreciated!

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland


Dark Sky Overland is an overland lifestyle brand that was created to support the various trips I take to National Parks and other designated Dark Sky Parks within the United States. It was also born out of a strong desire to simplify life after my wife of over 24 years passed away from a three year battle with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). You can learn more about my story at https://darkskyoverland.com/about/.

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

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