This National Park Is the Smallest in America (You’ll Be Surprised!)

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View of the Saint Louis gateway arch and nation park that commemorates westward expansion and the Louisiana purchase seen through a brick window that frames the landscape inside of another arch.

Have you ever been to a national park? You'd expect loads of trees and wide-open spaces. But there's one completely different, smack in the middle of a city.

Yep, in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, you'll find the tiniest national park in the U.S. It's not about size here, but what's inside that counts.

Quick Facts:

  • Location: Downtown St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Top Attractions: Gateway Arch, Museum of Westward Expansion, Old Courthouse
  • Popular Activities: Tram ride to the top of the Arch, historical exhibits, riverboat cruises
  • Unique Feature: The only national park located within a major city

You can't miss it — there's this huge arch. It's like looking up at a skyscraper about as tall as a 60-story building. And it's not just big; it tells a pretty important story about how America grew.

People come here not just for the sights but to feel a connection to history. This place has a way of surprising you with its mix of city vibes and historical roots. It's where you get up close with the past, right beneath this massive arch.

Welcome to an unexpected find, just a stone's throw from the Mississippi River, where history stands tall amid the city's modern pulse.

It's more than a park; it's a slice of history, inviting you to explore a national site unlike any other. Let's discover the Gateway Arch National Park, a whole new way to experience history packed into a spot you wouldn't expect.

Downtown St. Louis, Missouri, USA viewed from below the arch. gateway arch national park.

A Glimpse into Gateway Arch National Park

As you approach St. Louis, the iconic 630-foot stainless steel arch becomes a focal point, shimmering against the city skyline.

Completed in 1965 at a cost of around $13 million (equivalent to about $105 million today). Famed architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel meticulously designed the arch.

The park, which covers a modest 91 acres, was initially established as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1935 and rechristened the Gateway Arch National Park in 2018.

Its unique design and historical significance symbolizing America's westward expansion make it a remarkable national treasure.

Are you captivated by the Gateway Arch National Park? The Midwest has more hidden gems to explore in 5 Midwest National Parks That Are True Hidden Gems.

Photo of Downtown St. Louis Missouri from the Arch in St. Louis Missouri

Experiencing the Arch Up Close

While it's breathtaking from any city vantage point, standing directly beneath the arch is an experience.

Its immense stature dwarfs you as the sky frames its sleek curve above you. But to truly appreciate its marvel, consider journeying to its peak.

The ascent isn't just a simple elevator ride; it's via a unique tram system, the only one of its kind globally.

This tram is a chain of compact, egg-shaped pods, each seating up to five passengers. As they move, they pivot, ensuring you remain upright throughout the climb.

Upon reaching the top, observation windows greet you, showcasing downtown St. Louis on one side and the expansive Mississippi River on the other.

On clear days, your gaze can stretch up to 30 miles away. And here's a fun fact: the Arch can sway up to 18 inches in strong winds due to its design, though it's so subtle you'd scarcely notice.

Experiencing the inside of the Arch is more than just panoramic views; it's immersing yourself in an engineering masterpiece.

The History of The Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch isn't just about the view from the top. Beneath its surface, a whole world of history is waiting for you.

The Museum of Westward Expansion, located beneath the Arch, meticulously showcases the lives of Native Americans, pioneers, and explorers through detailed exhibits.

Authentic 19th-century artifacts, from Native American beadwork to the rugged tools used by settlers, provide a tangible connection to the past.

The museum also offers a deep dive into the Lewis and Clark expedition and, importantly, sheds light on the intricate process of how the Arch was constructed.

Gateway Arch National Park. Visitor's Center underground entrance. sunset sky.

A bonus for history enthusiasts and curious visitors alike: entry to this treasure trove of information is completely free.

Enjoying the Surroundings

Once you've absorbed the history and marveled at the arch, the park's pristine grounds beckon. Do you fancy a picnic? The Luther Ely Smith Square is your spot, a peaceful green haven in the city's heart.

Don't miss the Old Courthouse nearby. It's not just any building; it's where the famous Dred Scott case happened.

The Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis with the Gateway Arch behind

And those reflective pools? Perfect for a quiet moment or a selfie with the Arch mirrored in the water.

And if you're up for a little adventure, hop on a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. It’s a whole different view of the Arch from the water.

St. Louis, Missouri, USA park view in the morning

Wrapping Up Your Visit

Before you leave, don't forget to visit the gift shop. It's the perfect place to grab a memento of your trip or gifts for loved ones.

In conclusion, while Gateway Arch National Park might be the smallest national park in America, it's packed with rich history, architectural wonder, and experiences you'll cherish.

So, don't overlook this urban gem the next time you plan a trip. Remember, sometimes, the most unforgettable destinations come in small packages!

For more national park destinations and tips, visit Budget-Friendly National Parks.

gateway arch national park

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