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Grand Canyon

Tour the Grand Canyon in a Helicopter

The Grand Canyon

Taking a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon is nothing short of a dream for most people, but that dream can easily become a reality when visiting the south rim of the canyon. Just outside of the National Park, the small gateway town of Tusayan houses a heliport for the adventurous.

What helicopter companies can I tour the Grand Canyon with?

Papillon Helicopters offers multiple flights from the south rim of the canyon with a variety of lengths and prices. Getting to the heliport takes roughly 15 minutes in a car from the Grand Canyon Village or can be accessed by a short walk from stop number 2 from the purple route NPS shuttle bus that operates during peak travel season from March-September.

Grand Canyon
A view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon

It is highly encouraged to make online reservations ahead of time, as flights book out very quickly during peak months. Once you arrive at the heliport you’ll enter the small building and walk up to the registration desk where they will take your name and ask you to stand on a small piece of what I call “magic carpet.” Here, they will record your weight (don’t worry, it’s not advertised to others) and direct you into the small theater to watch the safety video. Do not try to skip this video, as you’ll receive a small sticker upon exiting the theater that confirms you’ve seen the film. Outside the theater, there is a small waiting room, restrooms, a very small coffee bar (if Dan is there say hello!) and a gift shop. Wait until after your flight to purchase from the gift shop, as you cannot have additional items on the helicopter. In fact, upon entering the building, the only thing you should have with you is a camera—no backpacks, large purses, etc—leave all of the in the car (it just adds weight on the helicopter and is not permitted).

When they call your name from the waiting room, you’ll be given a piece of paper with a number on it. This is where you’ll sit on the helicopter. If you were given the number 1, consider yourself lucky, as this is the seat up front next to the pilot that has floor to ceiling views of the canyon. Unfortunately, you do not get to dictate or even request where you sit on the helicopter as it is all determined on how they balanced out the weight. Each helicopter fits six people and its also not a guarantee that you will be facing forward, as some seats face backward. But it’s all worth it once you get over the canyon! Before you get into the helicopter they will take a souvenir photo available for purchase of you standing in front of it—if they take a photo of the whole group your with and you’d rather just have a photo of you and your partner/friend/mom/etc don’t hesitate to ask them to take another; they want you to buy this photo so they won’t mind doing it.

What is it like to fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter?

Helicopter over Grand Canyon
The pilot actually took this photo of me mid flight, 2008

Once you take off you’ve got about 10-12 minutes flying time over the South Kaibab National Forest. You’ll be listening to theme music in from the headphones they give you (think Frank Sinatra “Come Fly with Me” etc) and things start to intensify once you get closer to the rim (maybe you’ll hear the theme song from the movie Rocky). One of the coolest sensations I’ve ever had is the feeling you get once you hit the rim of the canyon. I won’t go into much detail here so you can experience it organically but it’s just incredible. As you fly along the canyon, your pilot will provide you with information about what you’re seeing and famous rock formations if they appear.

When determining how long you want to fly for take into account that 10-12 minutes to and from the canyon is spent over the forest. I always used to tell clients that if their budget allowed they should go for the longer flight—if you’re going to spend the money on something you’ll most likely do only once you might want to maximize your time over the actual canyon. But that’s just my two cents.

Helicopters can be a rocky. They are much smaller than planes and fly completely differently. But if heights and movements don’t scare you, it’s totally worth it. They are so fun. If you have no interest in trying out a helicopter but still want to fly over the canyon, Papillon also offers an airplane tour.

Please note that flights can cancel at anytime due to inclement weather and/or too much wind.

 

We’ve been to the Grand Canyon collectively nearly 100 times. If you have any questions, email us at scuttabout@gmail.com.

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