Monday, February 9, 2015

Stunning views: Getting tickets to go up inside the Washington Monument

I've been in the D.C. area for about 10 years now and January 2015 was the first opportunity I've had to ride the elevator inside the Washington Monument. We had tried a few times over the years, but for one reason or another plans didn't work out. Then the monument was closed for renovations after the 2011 earthquake until spring 2014.

Yesterday we got downtown early to take in some museums. Since it was just past 9 a.m. we were able to find parking pretty much almost anywhere along Constitution Avenue. We decided to park near the Washington Monument and see if some tickets were still available. Turns out luck was on our side and we were able to get tickets for 9:30! (more on how to get tickets at the end of this post).

We were on our way...

Waiting to enter


NPS has two lines set up - one for the current tour time and another for the following (half-hour apart).  You get on your line and are given a group; you wait until your group is called. Yesterday, it looked like groups of 8 were called into the monument at a time. Our wait wasn't too long.

After we received our tickets, we walked back to the monument to get on line

Security and elevator ride


Once your group is called, you go through security (metal detector and bag check) and then wait in the base of the monument in line for the elevator, which was large and accommodated a nice-sized group of people for each ride up. The elevator takes 70 seconds to reach 500 feet, which is where you get off to take your tour. During the elevator ride, an NPS ranger provides more information. 

See Washington D.C. from above

Seeing the city from this angle was stunning. I'd taken the Old Post Office tour a number of times and saw some neat views, but this provided a different (and higher!) perspective. There are two windows on each side of the Washington Monument (one with steps to give a boost and one without) and surprisingly plenty of room to move about. There are plaques positioned next to the windows which outline what landmarks you can see from each viewpoint. Here are a few highlights:

View of the Jefferson Memorial and the bridges to Virginia

View of the Lincoln Memorial

View of the White House

 You can stay inside as long as you want to enjoy the views. Once you're finished, you head down about 14-15 steps to the level at 490 feet where you'll find some more exhibits relating to the history and building of the Washington Monument. When you're ready to go, you get on line for the elevator to ride back down. Your guide will provide some other information. You'll also get glimpses of the rest of the monument's interior (various stones donated, etc.). 

Getting tickets

You can get tickets one of two ways. You can stand online at the Washington Monument Lodge, located on 15th St. in front of the monument, where the ticket window opens at 8:30 a.m. The line often starts well before then, but if you go in the off-season you may not have a wait (we didn't), but in busier season there is likely to be a lot of people online. Tickets are free and you can only get same day tickets this way (up to 6 tickets - keep in mind kids aged 2 and up do need a ticket). You choose your preferred time from the available open time slots. 

The other option is to go to NPS' Washington Monument web page (or call 1-877-444-6777) to reserve your tickets and preferred time slot. There is a fee of $1.50 per ticket with this method, but if you plan to visit during peak times (April to Sept.), this is going to be your better option. I'd recommend paying this small fee and booking your tour online. This way you don't miss out.  

Update: I was able to book online in mid-September 2015 with a few days notice, but in 2016 we tried in February to book tickets for April and there were already no tickets left. So I'd recommend you check ahead for availability.

Update #2 (March 2017) The monument elevator closed earlier this year for repairs and there is now a sign that says the monument elevator is closed until 2019.

When it reopens, definitely worth a visit!
Currently the Capitol Dome and some of the Mall's lawn (in front of most of the Smithsonian Museums) are currently undergoing renovations, so not the best views right now. I'm not sure of the Capitol's schedule, but the lawn won't be finished for about 2 years.

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