January 21, 2019

Gateway Arch National Park - and Other Adventures in St. Louis, Missouri (National Parks Trip #2)

This post represents another installment in the series detailing the second of our three cross country National Parks camping trips with travel trailer in tow.  At the time of this trip in 2010, our son, Ryan, was 16 and our daughter, Kyra, was 11.

With the fun and games of Branson, Missouri, behind us, our family headed northeast toward St. Louis, with a visit to the impressive Gateway Arch next up on our itinerary.  You all know that we prefer camping in State or National Parks over private campgrounds, enjoying the solitude and the scenery that only our public lands can provide.  Well, our best State Park option near St. Louis was the Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood, but it was about a 30 mile drive into the city.  This Park looked lovely, received good reviews and is currently enjoying an 8.5 rating on RVParkReviews.com (link HERE).  But we had booked tickets for an early morning tour at the Gateway Arch and factoring in the time we’d need for breakfast and driving in to the city made that particular Park a doable but less than perfect option.  So, we had to decide - should we bite the bullet and make the drive or look for a private campground?

We found the answer in the next state over.  The Casino Queen RV Park in East St. Louis proved to be the perfect place to stay for a visit to the city of St. Louis.  Now, you would think that East St. Louis is in Missouri, right next to St. Louis.  And you’d be wrong.  East St. Louis is just east of St. Louis, that’s true, but it’s across the Mississippi River in the state of Illinois.  However, the RV Park owned by and adjacent to the Casino Queen in East St. Louis is only 2.1 miles from the Gateway Arch via the Eads Bridge, and this RV park currently has a 7.3 rating on RVParkReviews.com (link HERE).

"Camping" at the Casino Queen RV Park in East St. Louis, Illinois

I admit there was a bit of trepidation involved in making the reservation.  First of all, one of the kids’ elementary school teachers had lived in St. Louis and his insistence that East St. Louis could be a dangerous place did have Alan and me a little concerned.  Was he jesting?  Or was he not?  As it turns out, Fox2Now, the Fox TV affiliate in St. Louis posted an article on its web site in May 2018 entitled “East St. Louis Tops List of Most Dangerous Cities in America.”  Okay, so he wasn’t jesting.  Secondly, a number of the reviews commented that this RV Park was a little difficult to locate and a missed turn would send you over a bridge into the city of St. Louis itself.  Good luck navigating with a big rig there and finding your way back.   Lastly, we understood that we would be, in fact, reserving a parking spot in a blacktopped lot.  True, the Casino Queen RV Park had many of the same amenities that an RV resort would have – full hookups, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, a camp store and a playground – but imagining our family of outdoor enthusiasts “camping” in a parking lot?  It wasn’t exactly a comfortable feeling.  But many reviews confirmed that security at the Casino Queen RV Park was active and adequate and the opportunity to camp near the banks of the Mississippi River, with the Gateway Arch clearly visible against the St. Louis sky, made the Casino Queen the right choice for us.

Early the next morning, Alan, Ryan, Kyra and I walked across the Eads Bridge to the Gateway Arch.  Taking every precaution, Alan and I sandwiched the kids between us and kept our eyes on the both the traffic and the people around us.  I’m not saying that we feared for our lives, but we tend to be cautious people.  So, let’s just say that we feared.  Until, that is, we saw a young woman jogging alone across the bridge.  At that point, we relaxed just a bit and paid more attention to enjoying the views of St. Louis and the mighty Mississippi below our feet.

The Mighty Mississippi

At the time of our visit (July 2010), we had planned to take a tour on the Mississippi River, but the tour had been cancelled due to flooding.  The river was running high and we could see that the waterfront and the dock for the tour boat were inaccessible.

The concrete sign at the left says, "St. Louis Riverfront."

At the halfway point on the Eads Bridge we crossed from one state into another.  This provided an excellent opportunity for us to stand with one foot in Illinois and one foot in Missouri proving that a person can, in fact, be two places at once.  (Yes, we do have proof of this fascinating marvel, but I’m pretty sure the kids – now young adults - would prefer not to see those goofy photos in print anywhere.)


The Gateway Arch represents one third of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; the Museum of Westward Expansion (situated beneath the Arch) and St. Louis’ Old Courthouse represent the remaining two thirds.  The Memorial honors Thomas Jefferson and his vision of the continental expansion of the United States.  Construction on the Gateway Arch began in 1960 and it is the tallest monument in the United States.

A view from underneath the Arch

I remember seeing images of the Gateway Arch since I was young, but I always thought it was just an arch.  It wasn’t until I began researching this National Parks trip that I discovered there were tiny elevators, called trams, in the Gateway Arch and you could actually ride in them up to a small, indoor observation area.  At the time, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity for the kids and so we purchased tickets to do that.  I have done several things in my life that scared the life out of me due to my fear of heights and this was definitely one of them.  However, I can assure you that this is an experience that I’m thrilled we didn’t miss.  The tram ride up was kinda sorta like riding in something the size of a large washing machine – strange and comical, but certainly fun.

Allegedly, five people can fit in each washing machine tram car.
Observation area at the top of the Arch
Looking out over the city and having a bird’s eye view of Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play ball was fun. Sadly, there was no game at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning - for which I’m sure the Birds were grateful.  Visiting the Gateway Arch was a unique experience and I will never see a photo of it without remembering what it was like to actually to BE in that iconic landmark and look out the tiny windows at the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi River.  If you have an opportunity to visit the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, I’d highly recommend a trip to the top of the Arch.  It is, simply, unforgettable.

While we were up in the observation room, the Old Courthouse caught Kyra’s eye.  She had recently learned of the Dred Scott Decision in school and she pleaded with us to add the Courthouse to our itinerary.  It was just a short walk from the Gateway Arch so, after we came down in the cute and (very) cozy tram and visited the Museum of Westward Expansion (an excellent stop), we headed further up North 4th Street to the Courthouse.

The outside is lovely, but the inside is even more impressive!

On March 6, 1857, in this Courthouse, the Supreme Court ruled (7 to 2) that a slave, Dred Scott, who had resided in a free state and territory was not entitled to his freedom.  The decision fueled controversy and pushed the country closer to Civil War.  It was hard not to think about the ramifications of that decision as we stood in the very courtroom where it was rendered.

This depiction hangs directly over the Judge's bench in that famous courtroom.

The old building itself was gorgeous and appeared to be lovingly maintained.  It was easy to let imagination take hold, to go back in time and picture the scene and consider what the response might have been in the Old Courthouse when the decision was announced.

As I said before, a stop at the Old Courthouse wasn’t originally on our itinerary – we had our 11 year old to thank for this very special addition.  While it was, indeed, a lesson in school that had piqued Kyra’s interest in the Old Courthouse, I have no doubt that actually visiting this historic building and standing in the room where such a critical ruling occurred, made much more of an impression on her young mind than any paragraph in a history book ever could.  Mark Twain once said or wrote something that resonated with me at the time I first heard it and has remained in the back of my mind ever since:  “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”  I’m in no way demeaning formal education – I believe that it’s necessary and valuable.  But this impromptu stop at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis actually immersed all four of us in the history of our country at a particular moment in time – not only was it educational, but it was fascinating, as well.

After leaving the Old Courthouse, we made our way to The Old Spaghetti Factory for a delightful lunch – a fun stop for all of us, but especially so for Kyra, the family’s “pastaholic.”  After strolling around the waterfront, we crossed the Eads Bridge into East St. Louis and settled in again at our “campsite.”  The following morning would find us pushing westward with two full days of travel ahead.  Our next destination would be the biggest sandbox we had ever seen . . . Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado.

Thanks for stopping by today!  I have to admit that I’m REALLY enjoying reliving this trip and sharing our adventures with you.  I hope you’ll return for the next installment!  Additional information on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (link HERE) and Gateway Arch National Park (link HERE) can be found on the National Park Service web site.  I understand that the Museum of Westward Expansion has been replaced by a new Museum at the Gateway Arch.  If any of you have visited the new museum, please do share your thoughts in the Comments section below.  Thank you!


  1. Very interesting. Will put ST Louis on my try to get there list.

    1. Hi, Janine! We have three more stops in St. Louis that we'd love to get to on our next trip through - the AKC Museum of the Dog, Amighetti's Italian Bakery & Restaurant, and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. I'll keep you posted!

  2. I have relatives in St. Louis and have enjoyed our several visits to that part of the country. The arch is truly amazing... did you happen to get to the Museum of Westward Expansion situated underground, below the arch? Also, the short video we saw that detailed the building of the arch was fascinating... a marvel of engineering. (And, yes, definitely go to Ted Dawes Frozen Custard next time!)

    1. Yes, the Museum of Westward Expansion had a number of creative exhibits and we all enjoyed it. My understanding is that the Museum was either replaced or expanded and, from what I saw of the new exhibits online, it looks even better now. I remember the Park Ranger in the observation area pointing out that the carpet piece in the middle of the observation area was a different color than that on either end because it delineated the exact place where the final section of the Arch was set. It's rather mind boggling! As for the frozen custard, I hear that the lines are long and the wait is well worth it. Thanks for stopping by, Janis!

  3. Very pretty. Thank you for sharing this. I can't wait to hit my "retirement" date, and start sharing the road with you

    1. The open road is such a delightful place, Kevin, and you'll find that our for yourself before too long! Beautiful places to visit, unique experiences and many fellow travelers who share your enthusiasm - it's all good. Traveling certainly adds a special dimension to retirement and I know you're counting down the months. Stay in touch so we can count down with you!


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