If your budget is tight or you don’t have a ton of free time, air-only helicopter tours are a terrific way to see the Grand Canyon. Landing tours are more comprehensive as far as Grand Canyon helicopters go, but they’re also more expensive and time-consuming. That being said, you’ll get a great taste of this magnificent place if you take an aerial helicopter tour.
Air-only Grand Canyon helicopters take off from Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, Arizona (these choppers fly to the South Rim and are a great option for travelers coming from Phoenix and other central AZ cities) and Las Vegas (West Rim only, because the South Rim is too far). Although you could also choose a landing tour at the West Rim, you don’t have that option at the South Rim because of strict FAA regulations.
There are two types of South Rim helicopter tours: the shorter version lasts 30 minutes and flies from the South to the North Rim and back. The longer, 50-minute tour does this too, but it also takes you over highlights like the magnificent Painted Desert, the Colorado River confluence, Imperial Point, Dragoon Corridor (the canyon’s widest, deepest point), and Zuni Corridor. I recommend the longer flight if you can swing it because it’s a much more comprehensive canyon experience.
West Rim helicopter tours take off every day from several airfields located in the Las Vegas metro area. These flights usually last about 3 ½ hours from start to finish. You’ll fly over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead before you get to the National Park. Once you arrive at the canyon, you’ll see the Colorado River at the bottom, the breathtaking Grand Canyon Skywalk (the “Glass Bridge”), Eagle Point and Guano Point, among other sights.
A lot of travelers coming from Vegas love this particular tour because it gives them a taste of the Park but doesn’t take a lot of time – they’d rather not take a whole day away from Vegas shows and gambling. If you have plenty of time and want a more thorough canyon experience, I think you might prefer a landing tour. These Grand Canyon helicopters land on the canyon bottom, where you can enjoy a champagne picnic or take a float trip down the Colorado River. You can even add passes to the Skywalk if you want.
No matter which rim you choose and which type of tour you take, I urge you to pick one of the tours that use EcoStar 130 helicopters. Simply put, they’re much better than the AStar aircraft that some companies use. Besides having a larger, more comfortable cabin, the EcoStar 130 gives you a quieter, more stable flight, top-notch climate control, theater-style seating, and a panoramic windshield that’s perfect for sightseeing.
Just about every Grand Canyon helicopter tour is incredibly popular, and most sell out very quickly. Whenever someone asks, I urge them to book well in advance – at least three days (but seven is even better) before the flight date you want.
I also urge people to book online, because that’s where the best tour deals and discounts always are. What’s surprising to some people is the fact that the best deals are offered by the tour companies themselves, not Expedia, Orbitz, Viator or anywhere else. It pays to buy direct instead of through a middleman. Just make sure you complete the entire transaction on the company’s site so you’ll qualify for the Internet discount. If you call customer service or mail in your payment, you’ll pay more.
Travel writer Justine Moriarity recommends first checking out this list of the top Grand Canyon helicopter tour suppliers http://www.grandcanyoncheap.com/helicopter-tours.html then going here for a list of the best flights at the lowest prices: