Charlotte Airport Overlook: Is It Worth Visiting?

Can you watch planes take off in Charlotte, NC? You sure can. The CLT Airport Overlook is a fun place to visit and is easily accessible (plus, it is free!). Visiting the overlook is a favorite weekend activity for my family.  My son likes to run alongside the planes as they take off. 

For some reason, the planes always win their little race, but he has fun all the same. 😎

CLT Airport Overlook: Complete Information & Guide

If you are unfamiliar with Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), it serves as a central airline hub for American Airlines. As a result, it is one of the busiest airports in the nation. More than 40 million passengers travel through the airport each year.

With so much passenger traffic, more than 700 daily flights occur at CLT, making the CLT Airport Overlook a great place to watch constant takeoffs and landings!

CLT Airport Overlook with Skyline
CLT Airport Overlook with Skyline

The Experience

The Overlook is an unassuming outpost, and there is a good chance that you will think you’ve taken a wrong turn the first time you drive over. When you reach your destination, you will find a long gravel lot and park benches atop a small hill.  

While the Overlook itself could be spruced up a bit, you will find beautiful views of multiple runways.

Some people choose to stay in their cars. Others will set up chairs in the back of a truck.  There are a handful of benches available. While the Overlook is often busy, we’ve never had any trouble findings somewhere to sit.

You can’t see the famous statue of Queen Charlotte (it sits inside the terminal) from the overlook, but it’s still a pretty great experience.

Watch Planes Take Off In Charlotte, NC

The CLT Airport Overlook is positioned alongside the western side of the runway closest to the terminal. As you watch over the runways, you will see the city in the background.  

I always find it fascinating to observe how much or how little runway the various planes need to take off.  Some smaller planes take flight much faster than bigger jets. The Overlook is positioned in the perfect place to observe some of these differences.

Charlotte’s airport is big enough to see quite the variety of planes. You might see a small, chartered flight, followed by a jumbojet flown by one of the major airlines.

Even as an adult, I am amazed by flight, and observing the planes taking off and landing offers a unique perspective you can’t even get as a passenger on one of the planes. And the way that the air traffic control team organizes flight patterns is a beautiful orchestration of this modern marvel.

Airplane Holding For Takeoff
Airplane Holding For Takeoff

Great For Kids or Just To Relax

Let’s talk a bit about what the Overlook is and is not. It is a great green space with runway views, but the Overlook doesn’t offer excessive green space, which is important to keep in mind.

For instance, my kids love going with me to the Overlook, and it is the perfect place to do family bonding on a weekend afternoon.  On the other hand, even though our son loves airplanes, this wouldn’t be a place where we would organize an outdoor birthday party. 

There simply isn’t enough space, cars are moving around, and some kids will be more interested than others in planes.

For the most part, the Overlook is a big gravel parking lot along a small grass strip. And as previously alluded to, there are probably ways they could invest in the Overlook to make it more comfortable and attractive.

Still, the park serves its purpose. It is a fantastic place to go as a family or by yourself. Go to admire the wonders of aviation, or just to clear your mind. It’s a relaxing environment and is the type of place you can go to again and again.

Is There Food At Charlotte Airport Overlook?

Occasionally, a food truck or ice cream truck may be set up near the parking lot. There aren’t any permanent vendors, and there may be days with no food truck vendors, but it is convenient when one is there.

If you plan on having a picnic, your best bet is to pack a lunch from home or pick something up before arriving. The last thing you want is to get hangry and disappointed when you show up.

Still, there have been times that I left my house to go somewhere else (usually the Whitewater Center, which isn’t too far away) but ended up at the Overlook because my kids wanted to watch the planes. In instances like these, it is nice that they allow some street food vendors to set up shop.

You can always plan to swing by Optimist Hall after visiting the Overlook if you prefer more eclectic food choices.

The View

I’ve always loved the Charlotte skyline. One of my favorite things about Charlotte Douglas Airport is that they still have passengers walking out on the runway at specific gates in Terminal E. It seems like something that should happen at a major airport in this day and age, but it is a fun experience nonetheless.

If you ever have the opportunity to do so, one of the most striking takeaways may be how beautiful the skyline is from the runway. There is something picturesque about planes taking flight in front of a skyline silhouette.  This is even more true if you have an early morning flight and the sun rises across the city.

You won’t get the same immersive experience from the Overlook, but it is still a fantastic view.  One of my favorite things to do is to get a picture of a plane taking off from the runway just as it crosses between me and the skyline. 

The Best Skyline in The Southeast

Airport Overlook in Charlotte, NC
CLT Runway

One of the reasons it is such an impressive experience is how imposing Charlotte’s skyline has grown over the years. Did you know Charlotte has eight buildings rising at least 500 feet into the sky? And dozens of other buildings are rising at least 250 feet into the sky.

And while many cities have skylines that have stretched beyond a central business district, most of Charlotte’s skyline is densely populated in the Uptown and Southend districts. As a result, the view from the airport is incredible.

Since Charlotte’s skyline is newer than many skylines, it is also lit up like Christmas with an array of impressive light installations. Have a camera ready if you catch the view near sunrise or sundown.

The bottom line is that between the airplanes and high-rises, the view alone is worth the price of admission (which is free) for visiting the airport observation lot.

CLT Airport Overlook Address & Directions

The Charlotte Douglas Airport Overlook is located at 7300 Airport Overlook Dr., Charlotte, NC 28208. The observation area is easily accessible from I-85.  Simply take exit 32 to continue on Little Rock Rd toward the airport. Briefly head west on Wilkonson Blvd until you can turn on Airport Overlook Drive.

CLT Airport Overlook Hours

The CLT Airport Overlook is open from 8 AM until 10 PM. Planes take off and land almost constantly, all day long, so there is hardly a bad time to swing by. Still, the views will be even more stellar if you ever have the opportunity to stop at sunrise or sunset. 

If you’ve never been to the observation area before, we imagine you will plan return visits soon after your first visit, so you might consider visiting at different times to experience the different vibes throughout the day. 

Is CLT Airport Overlook Worth Visiting?

Whether you live in Charlotte or plan a trip to the area, swinging by the Airport Overlook at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is a worthwhile experience. In some ways, the observation area is nothing more than a gravel lot with benches. Still, the view of the airport and Uptown Charlotte are second to none.

As we get older, we sometimes lose appreciation for the small things, but visiting the CLT Airport Overlook is a great way to reconnect with a childlike sense of joy that comes with appreciating aviation. And sure, it is a great place to visit if you have kids, but we are all kids at heart, so you should feel no shame in enjoying the experience.

The city of Charlotte is often referred to as CLT because of the airport, and from the overlook, you can see both the airport and the city.

It is a cheap experience too. Not many things are free anymore, but the CLT Airport Overlook is free to visit any time you want.  Pack a lunch, or grab some food on the way. You can spend an hour or more enjoying the observation overlook. Add the CLT airport overlook to your list if you are looking for things to do in Charlotte.

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.