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Choosing the Right Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
At nearly 2,000 square miles, the Grand Canyon is a behemoth. Full-day flights can showcase only a fraction of the natural wonder’s splendor. To get the most out of your experience, you’ll need to put some thought into selecting your helicopter Grand Canyon ride. Are you exploring the West Rim or the South Rim? Looking for a Las Vegas Grand Canyon helicopter tour combo? What time of the year are you visiting? What kind of helicopter are you flying? Let’s look at a few of the variables you should consider when booking your adventure.
What’s the Difference Between the West Rim and South Rim?
Generally, there are two types of Grand Canyon helicopter flights: a tour of the West Rim featuring many iconic sites, or of the pristine wilderness of the South Rim. Since the rims are hundreds of miles apart, the tour you choose will largely depend on where you are staying.
If you're in Las Vegas or Boulder City and want to spend a day or afternoon at the Canyon, a West Rim tour is the way to go for practical reasons: it's the geographically closest. However, if you're planning a full-on Grand Canyon vacation, chances are you'll be staying on the South Rim, in which case, the choice is obvious.
In terms of sightseeing, many West Rim tours give you the opportunity to see Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, Bypass Bridge, and several native reservations. If you're looking to get out of Sin City for a day or an afternoon, a West Rim tour is the best way to access the splendor of the American Southwest. Moreover, because of the West Rim’s proximity to Vegas, most helicopter tours in this region include round-trip shuttle service.
Conversely, the South Rim is “Grand Canyon Classic”—it has some of the most photographed vistas. When you see a shot of the canyon on a postcard, chances are it was taken from the South Rim. It features the desert-y painted cliffs we all recognize. South Rim tours take off from Grand Canyon National Park Airport, near Tusayan. Often, you'll need to provide your own transport to the airport.
It’s worth pointing out that no one tour is objectively “better” than the next. Regardless of which rim you fly, you’ll be treated to ultra-comfy seats, wide windows with 180-degree views, and flexible flight schedules that range anywhere from under an hour to a full day.
What Will You See on a West Rim Helicopter Flight?
Your West Rim Grand Canyon helicopter tour from Las Vegas begins with a pass over Black Canyon, where the Colorado River snakes between the El Dorado Mountains of Nevada to the west and the Black Mountains of Arizona to the east. Along the way, you'll see Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States when full. Its azure waters are held back by one of the greatest engineering feats of the twentieth century, the Hoover Dam. Built in the 1930s, this U.S. National Historic Landmark provides hydroelectric power to Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. Traversing the canyon just below the dam is yet another manmade marvel, Bypass Bridge. Nineteen-hundred feet long with a roadway 840 feet above the Colorado River, Bypass Bridge has the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and is the second highest bridge in the United States.
The numbers are impressive. But when viewed from the air, even the largest man-made structures are dwarfed by the enormousness of the nature surrounding them. Your helicopter follows the winding Colorado then crests the Grand Wash Cliffs. Here, the grandeur of the Canyon stretches as far as the eye can see.
Your tour continues over the mesas, pillars, and buttresses that fill the West Rim landscape. Check out Fortification Hill, a 3,700-foot flat-top mountain formed by an ancient massive lava flow. A West Rim helicopter tour highlights both spectacular human accomplishment as well as the sheer vastness and mystery of the world we inhabit.
What Will You See on a South Rim Helicopter Flight?
A South Rim helicopter tour is the ideal way to see the iconic formations of the Grand Canyon. After taking off from Tusayan, you'll fly over Kaibab National Forest, home to some of the tallest ponderosa pines in the world as well as white-tailed deer, elk, coyote—and the rare cougar and black bear. Next, descend into the Dragon Corridor, the deepest and widest part of the Canyon, and experience the heart of the Grand Canyon wilderness.
Through millions of years of erosion, the Colorado River has laid bare the entire geological history of the North American continent. You'll soar over dramatic colors, rock pillars, and otherworldly phenomena too numerous to count. See the Tower of Ra and the Temples of Osiris and Horus, a trinity of mountains that call to mind ancient Egyptian pyramids. At the very bottom of the canyon, two-billion-year-old exposed rock from the Vishnu Schist is visible in the Inner Gorge. Witness the confluence of the Little Colorado River and the larger Colorado, where the narrow and deep Marble Canyon gives way to the entrance of Upper Granite Gorge. The Little Colorado gets its distinctively bright blue color from limestone and travertine in its waters, though cloudbursts can cause its color to change rapidly. On a South Rim helicopter tour, the sheer number of gorgeous sights in one place is sure to boggle your mind.
But Wait… There’s Also a North Rim!
For Grand Canyon visitors, the North Rim offers a chance for a quieter, more pristine experience. In fact, it's only open for part of the year due to the heavy snowfall it experiences in winter. However, it's possible to see by helicopter year-round, so you can experience its quiet beauty regardless of when you plan your trip! If you're intrigued but staying on the South Rim, you're in luck—many South Rim helicopter tours also pass over the North Rim, allowing you to observe the differences in vegetation and weather on the two sides of the canyon.
From the air, the North Rim's rugged scenery provides a sharp contrast to the colorful cliffs of the South Rim. Whereas the South Rim features mainly pines and firs, the northern Kaibab National Forest with its snowy highland climate can support birch, maple, and oak trees. A North Rim helicopter tour is a chance to see a less-frequented but equally stunning side of the Grand Canyon.
How much are Grand Canyon helicopter tours?
Helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon vary in price depending on whether you want an air-only tour or want to land at the West Rim or for a Champagne picnic at the bottom of the canyon. Tours departing from the South Rim can be combined with hummer tours for top and bottom views!
What do you wear on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon?
Dress according to the season. In the summer months, it is best to wear sunglasses and sunscreen.
What Models of Helicopter Fly Over the Grand Canyon?
When you lift off on your Grand Canyon helicopter tour, you're safe in the hands of an experienced pilot helming a state-of-the-art piece of machinery. Chances are, you'll be on one of two models: the EC-130 or the Airbus AStar.
The Airbus EC-130, also known as the ECOSTAR, is a thoroughly modern chopper designed for an optimal touring experience. An all-glass cockpit allows two passengers to sit next to the pilot, while wraparound windows make sure everyone on board has a great view. It can fit up to seven people. Thanks to anti-torque technology, the EC-130 has a much quieter engine than the average helicopter, enhancing your experience, and its Active Vibration Control System provides a smoother ride, too. In short, the EC-130 is designed with its air-tour passengers in mind, and it shows.
Alternatively, you might score a flight on an AStar, the same model that landed on Mount Everest. This six-seater helicopter is a workhorse. Used by the British military, firefighters, and rescue missions, this helicopter is renowned for its high visibility, streamlined handling, and exceptionally low noise levels. Up in the air in an AStar, you'll enjoy your Grand Canyon helicopter tour even more knowing you're in a vehicle used by the pros.
Do Helicopter Tours Ever Land in the Grand Canyon?
Yes! Many Grand Canyon helicopter tours give you the chance to touch down and explore the wilderness for yourself. These landings take place to the west of the National Park in the Havasupai and Hualapai Reservations, some in areas only accessible by helicopter.
On the ground, you'll have the chance to photograph rock formations and the roaring Colorado River. To learn the history of the peoples who have called the Grand Canyon home for nearly a thousand years, consider a tour that stops at the Native American Village at Eagle Point. If you're planning a romantic getaway, choose a tour that offers a Champagne toast and picnic with your landing in the Grand Canyon. Feeling adventurous? You can pair your flight with a raft down the Colorado River in a pontoon, a wild jaunt down the canyon trails in a Hummer or Jeep, or experience a taste of the Old West in a wagon or horseback ride led by a real cowboy.
But if you're pressed for time or not sure how long you'd like to spend in the air, don't worry—there are shorter trips without landings available. Test out the experience with a 15-minute flight. Chances are, you'll be so impressed you'll want to get back up in the air for a full-day tour!
When’s the Best Time of the Year to Take a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour?
The biggest advantage of seeing the Grand Canyon on a helicopter tour is that you're not at the mercy of muddy trails, closed roads, or the extreme climates of this dramatic landscape. Helicopter tours are available year-round with various pros and cons to each season.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours in Winter
In the winter, a particular plus of a helicopter tour is that you can catch the sights of the North Rim, even when the road to that side of the canyon is closed and the rim is completely inaccessible. Plus, the Grand Canyon looks beautiful decked in a coat of white snow! Of course, snowstorms can make flight schedules somewhat unpredictable. But if you fly on a clear day, the views are unparalleled and make for a totally unique glimpse of the canyon.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours in Spring
In spring, both the North and South rims have wildflowers in full bloom. Yellow, purple, and orange blossoms carpet the canyon floor in a kaleidoscope of color. It's not a sight to be missed! Note that there are also fewer tourists to be seen, making for more interesting photo opportunities.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours in Summer
Summer with its long, sunny days has the ideal weather for a Grand Canyon helicopter tour. If you don't have a lot of time and are looking for reliably good weather, it's your best bet. Just keep in mind that summer is the most popular time of year for tourists, so you won't get the sense of having the place to yourself.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours in Fall
Once school is back in session in the autumn, the crowds thin out. Take advantage of both a quieter canyon and stunning fall foliage by planning your helicopter tour in September or November. The North Rim, with its wider variety of tree species, is an ideal destination for an autumnal leaf-peeping tour, but the aspens on the South Rim turn a stunning shade of yellow too.
Start Planning your Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour Today!
Visiting the many viewpoints of the Grand Canyon by car or hiking the gorges are both great ways to take in the sights. But if you'd like to get a broader view of this geological marvel, a Grand Canyon helicopter tour is the experience you need. It's the only way to cover miles of the Canyon in the span of minutes and provides better views than any point on the ground. Best of all, the convenient round-trip shuttles offered from Boulder City, Las Vegas, and Phoenix mean that when staying in those cities, you can experience the Grand Canyon without worrying about any of the logistics—even your meals are taken care of. You'll step off the chopper with a newfound appreciation for the natural wonders of our planet and photographs and memories that will never fade.