The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is home to the official National Park. It’s there that most of the images we associate with the canyon were taken. Understand, however, that it’s no small feat to see the best the park has to offer if you see it from the ground. That’s why helicopter tours are so popular. If you haven’t considered adding a flight to your itinerary, please reconsider, as it will redefine the way you come to know America’s greatest natural wonder.
The South Rim is located in northern Arizona near the Utah border. The majority of its visitors originate from such cities like Sedona, Flagstaff, Scottsdale and Phoenix. It’s also popular with Las Vegas travelers, who reach it by bus or airplane, the later of which is most preferred because the direct flight is just 45 minutes (versus 5.5 hours by motor coach).
There are a variety of helicopter tours available. The most popular are the ones that last 30 and 50 minutes. The shorter trip goes from the South Rim to the North Rim and back via the Dragoon Corridor, which is the deepest and most magnificent section of the gorge. The longer tour includes the same points of interest that the shorter one does as well as:
1. Imperial Point (the highest point in the National Park)
2. The Colorado Confluence
3. Desert Watchtower
4. Zuni Corridor
5. Painted Desert
Personally, I recommend taking the deluxe 50-minute tour. The canyon, which comprises a whopping 1 million acres of wilderness, is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and frankly I think you’re selling yourself short by opting for the shorter flight.
South Rim helicopter tours depart from Grand Canyon National Airport, which is the hub for all air tours in this region. Flights leave daily every day of the year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regardless of when you go, I strongly recommend booking these tours at least a week in advance. This ensures you get the time and type of flight you want at a great price. By contrast, if you plan to purchase same-day seats or at the destination expect several things:
1. Pay more (usually retail)
2. Not get a prime-time flight (mornings)
3. Have your group separated
4. Fly on whatever aircraft is available
Another tip is to go with flights that use the EcoStar 130. This is the most sophisticated and modern helicopter flying the South Rim today. These “birds” feature up to twenty-five percent more cabin space, which allows the installation of stadium-style seating so everyone has a great view of the incredible scenery unfolding below. In addition, these helicopters have great A/C, a panorama windshield and an aerodynamic body that let’s them cut through the air like a knife.
New to the scene are a couple of landing tours. These trips include a 30-minute, rim-to-rim flight with either a sunset Jeep tour to the edge or a Harley Davidson motorcycle ride inside the Park. Naturally, these trips cost more and availability is limited but are well worth the extra effort and expense.
Speaking of finances, you should always shop the Internet for the best deals. My best tip is to purchase direct from the tour operator. It’s on their websites where you’ll find the best range of cheap prices. In my experience, I’ve been able to secure premium trips that have been discounted 35 percent! You can, too, but just remember to conclude your transaction on the Web so you get the special online price.