Unfortunately one of the most famous landmarks in the US, the Gateway Arch which stands high above the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of Saint Louis, is not wheelchair accessible. Able bodied visitors who can get into a small tram car and also manage 96 steps are rewarded with a view from the tiny windows at the top of the arch. Even if you can’t ride to the top the view from the bottom is impressive. The arch is 630′ tall with 630′ separating the legs at the bottom. The exterior is covered with hundreds of welded steel sheets, sparkling in the sunshine, each one a slightly different shade of silver than the one next to it. Surrounding the arch is an expansive grassy park with wide paved trails, benches and many shade trees.
The Museum of Western Expansion is located underground at the base of the arch. A rather long ramp leads down to the museum. A door and a security checkpoint is located halfway down. The door is heavy, not a problem on the trip down because the guards are there to hold it opened but on the trip up, where there is no landing and the door opens towards you, it’s difficult to manage. The lower level has a ticket counter for visitors who want to ride to the top. Tickets are also sold for two movies shown in separate theaters. One theater has a movie about the building of the arch. The other theater with a wide, four-story tall screen, shows a changing schedule of movies. The free museum is oval shaped with two slightly sunken levels in the middle. The ramps to the sunken levels are a little hard to find but everything is accessible.
A parking garage (7′ maximum height) is located at the north end of the park about ¼ mile away. Since our motorhome is much higher than 7′ we parked much farther away in the designated RV parking along the Mississippi.
Another favorite attraction in Saint Louis is Forest Park , a recreational area of over 1,000 acres with beautiful landscaping, walking and biking trails, athletic fields and even a golf course. The trails and sidewalks are ideal for wheelchair users. Besides all of the green space Forest Park has a history museum, an art museum and a zoo. All are free! Parking at the museums and zoo (pay lot at the zoo) is limited so arrive early if you want a parking space. Another option is to park in the large lots behind the visitor center and use the accessible park trolley.
The continuing exhibits in history museum cover the founding of Saint Louis, early industry , the great fire 1849 when a steam boat set the city ablaze, the 1904 Worlds Fair held in Forest Park and failed and successful urban renewal projects. There are also changing exhibits. Some of these have an admission fee. Everything is accessible.
The art museum is located on a hill overlooking the Grand Basin. The museum was constructed for the World’s Fair, the only building designed to be a permanent structure. The museum is very accessible although one section, with displays of medieval armor and weapons, is down a few steps. A small elevator accesses the level but an employee must operate it.
The zoo is also fairly accessible. It has wide, smooth pathways but it’s large with slightly hilly terrain so wheelchair users might need to have some help. Check the zoo map for recommended routes. A small railroad runs through the park. The seating area behind the engineer is wheelchair accessible. Several stops allow access to different sections of the zoo.
We also visited the Missouri Botanical Garden which is the former estate of a wealthy Saint Louis businessman, Henry Shaw. Mr. Shaw developed the property as a gift to the public and also as botanical research center. His country house is still standing and opened for tours but is not accessible due to steps. The gardens are very large and include many different distinct areas including a beautiful Japanese Garden, three conservatories and gardens with raised beds designed to be used by people in wheelchairs. Most of the garden paths are wide and smooth, very accessible. There are a few sections with gravel, mulch and steps. One of the conservatories can only be viewed completely by using both entrances because of steps between the levels. An accessible tram tour has stops at three of the most popular areas. A good amount of accessible parking is available close to the entrance.
Saint Louis is the birth place of Anheuser-Busch Beer so a tour of the plant is a must. The tour is about 1 ½ hours long and includes a history of the company, information about the historic buildings and how beer is brewed, a view of some of the huge vats and a chance to pet and take photographs with the Clydesdale. They have the nicest stables I’ve ever seen with wrought iron and stain glass windows! The tour is all accessible. Visitors in wheelchairs will have to take an alternate route in a few places. The tour route is all downhill. A tram takes visitors back to the Hospitality Room where free samples are available. Visitors who use wheelchairs have the option of requesting an accessible tram or pushing back up the hill which isn’t hard with some help.
There are many other attractions in Saint Louis but we ran out of time! The official tourist site has more information.
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