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North Carolina might seem like an offbeat vacation destination, but it has a lot going for it. From amazing aquariums to hiking trails with impressive views to countless beaches, there's a lot to see and do in NC.

And while the quaint mountain towns offer their own something special, if getting closer to the beach is in the cards this trip, Kitty Hawk Beach might be of interest. Not only is the area ideal for watersports, kite flying, sunbathing, and splashing in the surf, but it is also rich in history.


History buffs may already know the details, but travelers who don't know what happened back in the 1900s may not realize the importance of Kitty Hawk, NC, both its beach and nearby settlements.

How Did Kitty Hawk NC Get Its Name?

Long before the city itself became famous, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was known by another name. Britannica confirms that Kitty Hawk's name was "probably derived" from a Native American name on long-ago maps.

There's no telling precisely what the original name of the settlement was or how the Native people described it before the arrival of European settlers.

But the Algonquian people called the town Chickahauk, documented on paper as far back as the 1700s, so that's the best frame of reference historians have.

Though, as multiple sources point out, there are other possible explanations for the name than a terrible game of telephone over time.

Related: Topsail Island: Home To The Best Snorkeling In North Carolina

The Virginian Pilot notes that while the Native Americans would obviously have had their own name for the area, the European settlers could have stumbled upon "Skeeter Hawk" (for the mosquito hawks in the area) or "Killy honker," a "Native Indian name for the area related to the hunting of geese," per The Virginian Pilot.

There was still, apparently, a game of telephone (land records show the progression), but the general idea/meaning seems to have stuck.

What Is Kitty Hawk NC Famous For?

Historic Kitty Hawk is a popular tourist destination for a few reasons. For one, it's a coastal area with plenty of beaches as well as alluring nightlife. But the primary reason Kitty Hawk is on the map? Because of the Wright brothers.

Orville and Wilbur Wright created their "flying machine" and, eventually, had multiple successful flights out of the Kitty Hawk, NC, area. At the time, the Wright brothers were practically ignored, except by a few flight enthusiasts, even when a sensationalized story about them was published in the papers.

Today, of course, what happened in North Carolina is considered a monumental piece of American history.

Related: Visit The North Carolina Aquarium At Roanoke Island

The Wrights' first powered flight had a handful of witnesses who watched the plane take flight for 59 seconds, then crash somewhat gently. At least gently enough that no one was hurt, and the brothers planned a subsequent flight.

After the touchdown, however, the Wright Flyer was damaged by a gust of wind, rolling over multiple times, and never flew again. The Wright brothers did continue to pursue the study of flight and have since been commemorated in many ways.

The Wrights Didn't Actually Alight From Kitty Hawk

Though Kitty Hawk — and its beach — has earned plenty of notoriety for the Wright brothers' flight, it wasn't actually the place they flew.

True, the National Park Service does list Kitty Hawk as the home of the Wrights' incredible achievement.

However, it's further explained that the first flight occurred outside the town of Kitty Hawk; the brothers made a camp at what is now a town called Kill Devil Hills.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial is located at Kill Devil Hills, which is now a town, but during the 1900s was merely an open field (with a convenient hill and great weather conditions) where humanity took flight.

Kitty Hawk Beach Is Named For The Town

In the same way that Kitty Hawk, the town is named, so was the beach. While the area is famous because of the Wright brothers, the beach doesn't have a specific tie to their early flights.

In fact, the flight trials happened farther south along the barrier island, which is now marked on the map by the city of Kill Devil Hills.

It tracks that the entire eastern coast of the island could have been fair game for the Wright brothers' adventures in aeronautical flight, but according to official accounts, the beach at Kitty Hawk didn't explicitly factor in.

Even today, Kitty Hawk Beach isn't necessarily one of the best in North Carolina, but its proximity to the Wright brothers' memorial makes it a worthwhile stop whether visitors are in search of history or just a relaxing day beachside.