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Traveling With Kids: The St. Louis Arch

Updated on May 4, 2009

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is one of those American icons that you just have to visit. At 630 feet tall, it is known as the gateway to the west. It's quite a view driving into the city and seeing this amazing arch. When the light hits it just right, half of it seems to disappear into the sky.

Stunning as it is, the experience to get to the top may not be what you expect. Do yourself a favor and read these tips before you go.

About the Wait

Make sure you've got plenty of time. There are several different tours you can take, but a simple tram ride up to the top of the Arch can have a wait of 30 minutes or 2 hours. The base of the arch is a large visitor center with good bathrooms and plenty to look at, but kids get bored quickly. You can also get snacks while you wait, but those are limited. There's a gift shop too for killing more time. Be prepared for at least a short wait.

Even if you're not particularly interested in science or architecture, you can't help but be impressed by the structure itself. It is made entirely of triangular sections covered with concrete and stainless steel.

The Tram

There is a model tram outside the waiting area once you are actually in line for your ride to the top. Be aware that this is not some quaint reminder of how folks used to get to the top of the Arch. This is exactly how you will be making your journey as well.

Climbing inside the tram is like getting into one of those large dryers at a Laundromat. It is disturbing and you need to be quite sure that no one in your party is the least bit claustrophobic because the ride up lasts a whopping three minutes. That is plenty of time for nervous children (or parents!) to get into full panic mode.

Not to worry, though. The two emergency stairwells are in plain view almost the entire ride. On the way up and down, the tram tilts and then jerks, tilts and jerks as it makes its way around the curve of the Arch. Most kids will think it's great, but you may need to control your own anxiety so it doesn't rub off on them!

The Tram Experience

The Observation Deck

This is the Big Daddy, the reason you waited in line and endured that awful tram ride. It's a nice view, but the deck itself is much smaller than you might imagine. It's stuffy and you have to lean into those little windows at the top of the Arch to really get a good look outside. The really interesting/scary part is that the way the Arch is built, you can actually see straight down out of those windows.

Did you know tall buildings sway in the wind? The Gateway Arch is tall. It wasn't windy during my visit, but I had the feeling of motion sickness. After about a minute of enjoying the experience, my family and I were back in line to ride the tram down.

The kids loved it and we've got the pictures to prove it, so if I haven't scared you half to death then go! Enjoy! It's a piece of America.


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