I’m a huge aviation lover, in particular anything that flies or goes into outer space. Part of it is from past career work but much of it a love since childhood.
So paying homage to the Wright Brothers is something I am surprised I hadn’t done earlier. The Writher Brothers National Memorial is one of those places that many people think of going.
About the Memorial
On December 17th, 1903, Wilber and Orville Wright, two bicycle makers from Ohio changed the world forever by completing the first recorded powered air flight. While there is some dispute if they were first, they certainly catapulted into the history books with their flights here south of Kitty Hawk North Carolina.
The Wright Brothers chose Kitty Hawk for the large sand dunes and the favorable winds that would be needed for their experiments. The Brothers had visited Kitty Hawk before and in 1902 tested their gilders in the area.
On December 14th, they used Big Kill Devil hill with their rails to use the dune as well for gravity assist. This flight resulted in a crash that required several days to repair. So on December 17th, now with the rails on the ground they prepared for their powered flight attempt. They flipped a coin to see who would have the first flight. Orville was the winner of the flip.
What to See at Wright Brothers National Memorial
There are several key places to stop at during a visit to the memorial. The following are the ones you should try to see. Overall, it doesn’t take long to visit all of these sites.
Recently renovated, the visitor center is the best first stop for a visit to wright brothers national memorial. The visitor center has a lot of great exhibits on flying and the wright brothers. It talks about their origins in Ohio, their work on bicycles and information about flight and progression of flight. I think the exhibits at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio were more impressive. But still worth a visit.
There are two hangers you can visit that are located outside of where the visitor center is and close to the first flight boulders. These are replicas of the 1903 hangers that were used during the Wright Brother’s flights. One shows the living camp building and the other is an empty hanger which I’m assuming where the plane was stored.
First Flight Boulders
On December 17th, 1903, the Wright Brothers achieved fame as the first people to achieve powered flight. The boulders represent the distances of each of the initial 4 flights that took place here at Kill Devil Hill. The first flight was 120 feet and the final one, 852 feet.
Wright Brothers Monument
Located on top of Kill Devil Hill, the Wright Brothers Monument pays homage to Wilbur and Orville, their genius and determination towards powered flight. It is a massive monument and I do wonder what the Wright Brothers would have thought about them.
First Flight Airstrip
There’s an actual in-use airstrip at the national memorial. It was actually pretty interesting that its still in use today and we saw several planes landing at this airstrip. It’s not open to just wander around as its an active field, however, it was cool to see plans taking off and landing here.
Visiting the Memorial
The overall park is small and really quite compact. You can visit basically all of the sites in less than one hour within the park.
There are ranger led talks. At least for us the talk wasn’t super interesting and we ducked out pretty quickly. I think they sometimes have more in depth ones but they also seemed to be more geared towards kids. Which is great if you have kids along with you.
The park is really compact and the flight boulders, hangers, and monument are all easily viewable in less than an hour. You can even drive closer to the monument and park next to the hill to reduce the distance for walking if you prefer.
Overall I’m glad I went to the memorial, but I was a bit disappointed with the lack of things there and the few exhibits and other information. I think I had expected more. If I were to choose I think the Dayton Aviation Heritage Park is way more interesting and full of information about the brothers and their actions. You can also view several sites around Dayton and on Wright-Patterson to add to the history. Dayton was also far less visited, so I had many of the things to myself. Wright Brothers Memorial is far busier (especially during the summer) due to its location in the Outer Banks.
Address: 1000 North Croatan Highway Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
There is one visitor center for the site located within the national memorial. The visitor center is definitely the best first place to visit at the site. The visitor center includes information about the memorial, bathrooms, exhibits, a gift shop, as well as the meeting point for ranger led talks.
- Adults: $10 (age 16+)
- Children: Free
Entrance is also free for those with an American the Beautiful Interagency Pass or the Access Pass.
Date / Times
The park is open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm year round except for Christmas day. The park and the visitor center are open for the same times.
National Park Passport Stamp
There is a stamp available for the National Park Passports in the visitor center gift shop.
Official Website: NPS Wright Brothers NM
Other Wright Brothers Sites
There’s a lot of places with Wright Brothers related activities and history. Some of the ones I have visited that are worth checking out as well.
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park: This site in Dayton, Ohio, covers the history of the Wright Brothers, their lives, and experiments. You can visit the old bicycle shop, see exhibits, visit Hoffman field on Wright Patterson and see lots of historical points of interest. There’s also an Aviation Museum on Wright Patterson worth checking out and a monument to the brothers as well.
College Park Airport: The World’s oldest continuously operating airport is located in College Park Maryland. The museum and information about the airport is really interesting and its place in aviation history. It was where the first military “US Army” pilots were trained partially by the Wrights. This was all before there was a separate Airforce.
National Air & Space Museum: One of my favorite museums in the world. This is the place to go for some of the most historic aircraft in the world. You can also view the Wrights 1903 at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.
Getting to Wright Brothers National Memorial
The park is located in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina a few miles south of Kitty Hawk.
You’ll likely need a car regardless of how you go. Much of the area is only accessible via car and even bus transport will only get you within probably an hour of the site. You’ll then need a car or a taxi (which will be super pricy).
Wright Brothers Memorial is located on US-158. If you are arriving from the North you’ll cross over at point harbor to kitty hawk and then head south.
From the South or West, you’ll come via US-64E, through Roanoke Island and then north and follow the road to US-158W and then you’ll see Wright Brothers on your left.
There are quite a few regional airports in the area. But in terms of bigger airports, the best choice is probably either Norfolk (ORF) or Raleigh-Durham (RDU). Norfolk is the closer option located about 90 minutes from the Memorial, with Raleigh located about 3 hours outside of the outer banks. Both airports see regular service from major carriers.