This trip actually started a month or so ago when my preschooler told me that she really wanted to go to the airport. With today's security restrictions, I didn't know how much, if any, of the airport we'd be able to see without buying an airline ticket. So I went online to the RDU website and found out about this park near RDU's longest runway.
The Park consists of an observation deck, picnic tables, a sandbox, a small play structure shaped like a spider, and two paved 'runways' for kids to practice their own takeoffs. There are also bathrooms that are rustic (concrete walls and steel fixtures) but clean. There is a water fountain as well. The observation deck is accessible by stroller and wheelchair via a ramp. Communication between planes and the control tower is broadcast from speakers on the observation deck, but on a windy day like the day we visited you can't really make out the chatter.
From anywhere in the Park - although the best view is from the observation deck - you can watch planes landing and taking off. You can watch both commercial jets and small, private aircraft - my preschooler calls these "baby planes" - get in line for their turn to takeoff. It's exciting every time to see each plane liftoff from the ground and travel upward into the air. My kids and I started a tradition of cheering every time one of the planes took off into the great blue yonder. Now my toddler thinks putting his arms in the air and shouting "Woohoo" is the appropriate response every time he sees a plane takeoff.
From the Park, you can go across the street to the General Aviation Terminal. Take the stroller if you're going - it's a bit of a walk. There's really not a whole lot to see in the Terminal. The Terminal has an indoor observation deck that overlooks the private aviation lot, but you can't see any takeoffs or landings from there. There is an eatery in the Terminal called the Crosswinds Cafe, but I didn't check it out because I knew if I went over there my preschooler would throw a fit until I bought her something.
The Park can be a bit tricky to find. If you enter on Airport Blvd., you need to follow the signs to Park and Ride Lots 4 & 5. Once you head towards these lots you will see signs for the Observation Park that you can follow. There is a free parking lot at the Observation Park that closes at sunset. There is probably an easier way to get to the Observation Park by taking Lumley Rd. (exit 3) off of 540 and following the signs for 'General Aviation.'
|According to my preschooler, a "mama plane" getting in line for takeoff|