Dayton Offers Aviation History and Attractions That Are Fun and Accessible for All Ages

The birthplace of the Wright Brothers lets families collect a teddy bear on the Aviation Trail, see a space shuttle, explore a science museum and more.

Anietra Hamper
The National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, is the world’s largest military museum.

If your kids are fascinated by planes and aerospace, the hourlong drive from Columbus to the birthplace of aviation makes for an easy day trip that is active and inspiring for children and adults alike.

Native sons Orville and Wilbur Wright put Dayton on the map for their role as aviation pioneers, and visitors to the area can explore their innovations as well as commercial flight, space travel and other facets of local history.

Families can pick and choose attractions that fit their interests and schedule, with a mix of indoor and outdoor activities. Plan an entire weekend (or make a repeat visit) to travel Dayton’s Aviation Trail and collect a free Wilbear Wright teddy bear as a reward.

Some sites are part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, which attracts more than 57,000 visitors annually, according to the National Park Service.

Dayton's Aviation Trail

16 S. Williams St., Dayton; 937-225-7705; aviationtrailinc.org

A fun way to visit Dayton is to center a trip around the Aviation Trail. Pick up a passport from the first (and required) stop at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and Aviation Trail Visitor Center, then choose from 17 sites related to aviation history (including the National Museum of the United States Air Force and Carillon Historical Park, featured below). Participants must collect passport stamps from at least eight locations to qualify for the bear. Turn in the passport at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center or submit it by mail.

National Museum of the United States Air Force

1100 Spaatz St., Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; 937-255-3286; nationalmuseum.af.mil

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is a must-visit during any trip to Dayton. The world’s largest military museum focuses on military and civilian aviation as well as space travel and has more than 340 aerospace vehicles on display, including nine presidential airplanes.

The museum is sectioned in chronological order so you can easily visit a specific era of interest. Kids will especially enjoy the NASA Space Shuttle Exhibit, which includes a full-size, walk-on model. The famed B-17 bomber known as the Memphis Belle is a popular stop in the World War II gallery.

There are four hangers of exhibits, so plan on spending two to four hours to explore everything. Interactive flight simulators and a large-screen theater are offered for a fee. Strollers are available on a first come, first served basis. The Valkyrie Café sells snacks and sandwiches.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Cost: Admission is free.

The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton is an interactive museum that also offers a Kids Place play area.

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

2600 DeWeese Parkway, Dayton; 937-275-7431; boonshoftmuseum.org

One of the most popular local stops for families is the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. The interactive science museum has permanent and changing exhibits that cater to all ages. The MeadWestvaco Treehouse lets kids step into the natural world and even experience what it’s like to look for animals through night vision cameras. Younger children can play in the Kids Place, which offers protected environments to learn and explore age-appropriate science.

Daily public programs include planetarium shows, science experiments in the “Do Lab” and a keeper talk focused on a different zoo animal each day. COSI members can take advantage of half-off reciprocal admission at Boonshoft. Plan on spending two to four hours at the museum.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $14.50 for adults, $11.50 for children ages 3-17, free for ages 2 and younger

A replica of the Wright Cycle Co., the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop, is among the attractions at Carillon Historical Park.

Carillon Historical Park

1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton; 937-293-2841; daytonhistory.org

If possible, plan a full morning or afternoon at Carillon Historical Park because there is so much to see and do. The 65-acre, open-air history museum includes the Wright Brothers National Museum, the Early Settlement Area exhibit and the Heritage Center of Dayton Manufacturing & Entrepreneurship. The Heritage Center is home to the Carousel of Dayton Innovation, which features Orville Wright’s dog and other notable local items in lieu of the traditional horses. Kids can ride for a fee.

The park holds special events during the holiday season. Stay for lunch or grab a snack at Culp’s Café or Carillon Brewing Company, both of which are kid-friendly.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for children ages 3-17, free for ages 2 and younger

Five Rivers MetroParks

Multiple locations; 937-275-7275; metroparks.org

If you want to spend a little time outdoors, check out Five Rivers MetroParks, which operates 25 sites throughout the area—all of which are free to visit. Hike or walk on more than 150 miles of trails, or try geocaching. Find nearby GPS coordinates on geocaching.com and engage the kids in a fun scavenger hunt for local treasures. If you only have a short amount of time, RiverScape MetroPark offers year-round waterfront fun with seasonal activities such as an ice rink and a splash pad.

Go to daytoncvb.com for more local travel ideas, or download the Visit Dayton app.

This story is from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.