It’s not all surf, sand, and scrumptious seafood on your Outer Banks vacation. All good family vacations need a dose of adventure, a chance to step out of your comfort zone and create a story to share forever!
Hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites in Jockey Ridge State Park is the story you’ve been looking for. Hang gliding in the Outer Banks last summer was one of our favorite adventures in the USA and part of one of our most fun getaways from Raleigh.
A unique North Carolina Attraction
When we visit a destination, we like to experience what is unique to the area. Without a doubt, Hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites is a unique North Carolina attraction that helps tell the Outer Banks story!
There is a long history of flying in the Outer Banks.
It was in the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, NC that the Wright Brothers took the first flight in the early years of the 20th Century. Today, kite flyers and hang gliders from all over the world visit the Outer Banks to have their own flying experiences.
Where to hang glide in obx?
The hang gliding lessons happen in Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, one of the most popular North Carolina attractions for its sand dunes, sunsets, hang gliding and kite flying experiences.
The dunes of Jockey’s Ridge comprise the tallest natural dune system on the East Coast, ranging from 80 ft. to well over 100 ft. tall and provide the perfect platform for learning to hang glide.
They offer enough height for beginner thrills and are soft for landing. This area has the perfect (and consistent) wind conditions to help you fly better and faster. It’s why it’s one of the best hang gliding locations in the United States.
Most importantly, these sand dunes offer beautiful views of Roanoke Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding Experience
Kitty Hawk Kites have been providing hang gliding lessons at this site for over 25 years (since 1974). They operate the largest hang gliding school in the world located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We signed up for the beginner dune hang gliding experience, which starts with a 30-minute Hang Gliding lesson on the ground at the Kitty Hawk hang gliding training center.
We learned a little of the history of hang gliding in the area, what to expect, how it works (using a model hang glider to help), and our very important instructions.
We were then suited up (helmets and harness) and introduced to our instructor, Micah.
He was in charge of making sure we had a great time without any injuries. He was the perfect instructor for us: easy going, patient, supportive and friendly. We felt safe to be with a fellow vagabond.
Micah typically chases the snow on ski fields around the world, but due to COVID’s lock down of international borders, he decided to spend the summer in the Outer Banks to pursue new passions of hang gliding and surfing.
I’ll admit, when we walked up to the top of the sand dune and looked down over the area we’d be flying – realizing I wasn’t doing it as a tandem, my stomach started to churn. “What was I thinking?”
Now, you won’t be thrown onto the hang glide and left to your own devices. Your trainer runs alongside you calling out instructions, and holds onto a rope, which he can pull down at any time if an accident seems imminent.
To showcase bravery to the two strong, independent women we’re raising, I took a deep breath and volunteered to go first, silently repeating the instructions in my mind we learned at the 30-minute school beforehand.
“Move the bar 2 niches forward to go up, 2 inches back to go down. Hips to the side to turn. Flair – arms and legs outstretched – to land“
Micah, our lovely guide, ran along beside me holding the ropes and calling out what I had to do…“We’re walking, we’re running, we’re flying ….”
Wahoo. I’m up in the air. I’m flying! On my own.
That short lived magical feeling of flying didn’t last long before I saw the ground arriving, my sidekick disappearing, and my instincts shouting, “Flair, Flair Flair.”
Just in time for a soft sand landing. It was thrilling!
Hang gliding looks scarier than what it is and I don’t think you could hurt yourself. You travel anywhere from 30 to 100+ yards at 5 to 15 feet above the sand, and landing on sand is always a blessing.
We saw a few harmless crash landings from the other hang gliders and not a scratch on anyone – just a bunch of giggles and funny stories to share.
Savannah nervously, yet bravely, jumped up to go next. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous watching my 8 year old take flight. And she continued to jump up many times after. She was hooked on first flight and almost cried when our two hours were up!
On one turn she shot up high and sharply came down with a crash – she popped up giggling, excited to share she “survived a flight crash.”
We flew with perfect landings more than we didn’t. Kalyra had a near perfect flying execution each time. She was a natural hang glider!
The dune hang gliding experience with Kitty Hawk Kites includes 5 solo flights each. Plenty of time to perfect those landings!
There are about 15 people per lesson, split into groups of 4-5 with their own personal instructor. We were our own family unit with Micah which was lovely.
Hang gliding was the type of adventure we seek as a family: an experience that pushes us out of our comfort zones, helps us get to know the local area (including the people), makes us laugh, and gives us those stories to share forever around a campfire.
This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Outer Banks, but what was more enjoyable than the flying was seeing my kids conquer their fear and move one more step into empowered women living a full-life!
If you are hooked on hang gliding, you can take it a step further with intermediate and advanced classes.
You can take 2,000 feet and mile-high tandem hang gliding flights. Micah told us how an ultralight plane tows you to the right altitude where you then get to take over the control of the glider.
Sounds loads of fun, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet!
Important things to know about Kitty Hawk Kites Flights:
- You can order a photography package that includes Go Pro footage. We were able to use our own photography gear to capture our photos and videos. In hindsight, it would have been fun to capture our faces as we flew.
- Wear closed in shoes (or sandals). It will be easier for running and the sand gets hot.
- It gets very hot here. Make sure you bring at least 2 liters of water per person as you stand in the hot sun for over two hours.
- There really isn’t a lot of physical exertion when hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites. You have a short 200 yard hike over the sand to get to the launch site and your run off to flying is very short 10 yards. You do have to walk back up the dune after your landing, which can get tiring, but I think you can do it. It’s your instructor that needs to be fit as they run down the hill following you once you start soaring and then they carry the hang glider back up the dune!
- Tandem instruction is handicapped accessible.
- Every May, Jockey’s Ridge State Park hosts the Hang Gliding Spectacular, the longest-running hang gliding competition in the world. Pilots from around the world compete on the dunes and in aero-towing events.
- There are two lessons a day. We recommend doing the first lesson, so you have the rest of the day to play. Head to Mulligan’s Tiki Hut over the road after your flight for lunch and drink views over the ocean (or the dunes)!
Weather and Hang Gliding
Of course, hang gliding relies on the wind. So your experience could be affected by the lack of it, or, it could be rained out. We’ve had plenty of hot air ballooning experiences cancelled before because of it.
Book your hang gliding lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites Nags Head at the beginning of your OBX vacation so you have wiggle room if it needs to be rescheduled.
You can get refunds if you have to cancel. Fingers crossed for you!
To further connect to this historic site and flying history, you can visit the Wrights Brothers Memorial and visitor center just near here. Unfortunately the museum was closed due to current circumstances, so we chose to wait until our next visit.
More tips for your Outer Banks vacation
Disclaimer: Our hang gliding lesson was hosted by Visited Outer Banks.