Any student of U.S. history knows that Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was the site of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight, but many don’t know about the beauty of this seaside town. Charming Kitty Hawk is set in the Outer Banks, a coastal playground that offers miles of sand and fabulous outdoor activities. With historic sights, quaint clapboard cottages, and scores of colorful fishing boats, Kitty Hawk truly takes you back in time.
The sands of the Outer Banks are a delightful place to play like a kid—or to bring the kids, if you’re headed on a family adventure. You can race across the sand dunes, towing your kite behind you, or go sailing in the same waters as Sir Francis Drake and the pirate Blackbeard. The coast offers tremendous sporting opportunities, from sea kayaking and surfing to fishing and shelling along the coast. You can head out on a scuba diving trip, looking at underwater creatures, or do some windsurfing and kite surfing. And of course you’ll find plenty of chances to swim and build sand castles.
Kids can catch a play about the first English colony in the New World or go racing after blue crabs at the beach. You’ll find plenty of space for strolling or biking as well as first-rate restaurants offering everything from delicious seafood to international cuisine.
But of course Kitty Hawk is most famous for its connection to the Wright Brothers. Orville and Wilbur first settled here because this quiet village seemed like the perfect place to test their airplanes in secret. They arrived in the fall of 1900, and by 1903 Orville was telegraphing home with triumphant news. Just four miles from the base of Kill Devil Hill, he and Wilbur had achieved the first powered air flight. Today, visitors can relive this exciting historic moment at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Visitor Center as well as at the Memorial Pylon that marks the position of the flight.
The origin of Kitty Hawk’s unique name is still under dispute. Some believe it’s an approximation of the Native American phrase meaning “goose hunting grounds.” Others say it’s a local term for dragonflies, or “skeeter hawks,” that in time has turned into “kitty hawk.” Whatever the origin, the area is in fact well known as a hawk-watching location. Hawks, osprey, and other bird of prey cruise along this sandy coast, looking for tasty meals washed up by the sea.
Lovers of nature should be sure to visit the Kitty Hawk Woods, a 1,877-acre wilderness that’s set right in the middle of town. This maritime deciduous swamp, forest, and marsh area is a haven for birds, wildlife, and other critters. With inlets cutting across the Currituck Banks, letting fresh sound waters flow into the salty ocean, this is prime hunting territory for sea birds and marine creatures as well as being an excellent nursery for fish.
A number of wild animals thrive in the Woods. When you visit, you may see everything from muskrats and river otters to swans, foxes, and white-tailed deer. Songbirds flock to the marshlands, and woodpeckers and wood ducks inhabit the forests. Because of the fragility of this special ecosystem, visitors are asked to please remain on the trails and boardwalks.
Kitty Hawk is a dog-friendly town, so long as dogs and their owners both follow certain rules. Dogs must be kept on a leash that’s shorter than twelve feet long. They aren’t allowed in the Kitty Hawk Woods, but dogs are allowed on public beaches so long as the owner cleans up after them.
If you bring your own watercraft to Kitty Hawk, you’ll find plenty of places to put your boat in the water. Kitty Hawk offers a number of public beach access points at streets throughout town. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, lifeguards are on duty to protect beach swimmers.