Tours up the Washington Monument resumed this spring after repairs were completed on the damage from a 2011 earthquake. I jumped online and paid the $1.50 per ticket plus shipping fees to reserve a date and time to take my 4- and 8-year-old boys up the iconic pencil (you can also get free, same-day tickets at the ticket booth, but I wasn’t risking that with D.C.’s summer crowds).
We picked up our tickets inside the small gift shop just east of the monument and headed across the lawn to wait in line. The monument is run by the National Park Service, so we got to interact with several park rangers during our visit. Clearly marked lines showed us where to wait on a long bench for our 11AM tour. We learned that our tickets were actually good until the next tour time (11:30AM).
A group of about 10 at a time next moved into a small roped area near the monument’s base to wait to enter security (and air conditioning!). It was during this 5-minute wait that we had a chance to ask a ranger a ton of questions about the monument — it was possibly the most worthwhile part of the tour.
After clearing security, we were corralled with a group of roughly 30 people outside the elevators, where another ranger gave us some facts. The 70-second elevator ride deposited us on the 500-foot level (the monument is 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches) for what we came for: amazing views! There 8 windows, many of which had steps underneath that enabled my 4-year-old to see out.
This part of the tour is self-guided and you can browse as long as you want. Printed info above and below the windows includes a photo and a map of what you are seeing with notable sights labeled. We had learned earlier from a park ranger that it’s possible to see 20-plus miles on a clear day.
Next we descended a flight of stairs to the 490-foot level, which includes several exhibits on the monument (but no windows). This is also where you catch the elevator down. My boys were fascinated by the exhibit on protective lightning rods. They were also excited to see something an earlier ranger had told them about: the backup aluminum apex (pointy thing at tippy top of monument) that is on hand in case a replacement is needed. We waited a couple minutes to get on the elevator ride to ground level.
An earlier ranger had mentioned to try to get the kids to stand near the doors on the elevator down to be able to see out the glass doors. You can’t see anything out them on the way up, but on the way down, the elevator slows as it passes engraved stones. The ranger on the elevator described the stones — many of which were donated by states — that were lit up out the front and back of the elevator. All you get is a quick glimpse (and there was no way to see out both front and back so you just have to pick one and stick with it). There was no time to ask questions, and the ride was over in about 2 minutes.
From getting in line to enter the monument to finishing the tour and exiting the monument took about an hour. My boys, who haven’t been up many other tall buildings, found seeing the often-glimpsed obelisk from a new vantage point to be pretty cool.
- Tour hours are 9AM-5PM; summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day) are 9AM-10PM. Free, same day, timed tickets are given out on a first-come first-served basis at the Washington Monument Lodge starting at 8:30AM. One person may obtain up to six tickets as well as request their preferred ticket time. Tickets are required for ages 2 and up.
- We found a two-hour metered parking spot easily on Constitution Avenue, but you could park in a garage or lot for longer stays. The official web site says to park in the paddle boat parking lot along Maine Avenue SW, and along Ohio Drive, SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. The parking garage at the Ronald Regan Building would also work. The nearest Metro stop is Smithsonian (blue/orange lines).
- Bathrooms are located at the Washington Monument Lodge, which is where you pick up tickets. The official website states there are no bathrooms in the monument, however I did spot a restroom sign on the 500-foot level, which I’m guessing is for emergency/staff use only.
- The waiting area outside the base of the monument has no shade; our 20-minute wait was very hot and I envied some visitors who had umbrellas for shade. I would imagine the area gets very cold in winter.
- No food/drink is allowed, but water is allowed.
- No strollers are allowed.
- We didn’t think to bring binoculars but that might have been fun for the kids.
- One ranger told us that there are plans to offer guided tours down the monument stairs to get a better look at the engraved stones sometime in the future.
Photos by Kathleen Seiler Neary.