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When To Take A Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
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When to Take A Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

One of the most thrilling ways to visit the Grand Canyon is by helicopter. These aircraft let you fly above key landmarks while offering you the opportunity to fly below the rim. Sounds awesome, but it can be even more incredible when you pick the right time of the day to fly.

West & South Rim

Canyon helicopters originate from two places: Las Vegas and Grand Canyon, AZ. Vegas flights go to the West Rim, while Arizona trips do the South Rim. There are no connections by helicopter between the rims. Vegas travelers, however, can take a 45-minute airplane ride to South Rim whereupon they'll transfer to a helicopter for a rim-to-rim ride.

There are two kinds of helicopter tours: Aerial and landing. The former are great if you want to sample the canyon, have mobility issues, have limited time (trip duration is around 3 hours) or are on a tight budget. Personally, I recommend the landing tours as these let you see the rim from above and on the ground.

The best time to take a helicopter tour is in the morning (the earlier the better). I suggest booking anything from 7 a.m. to noon. Remember, if you are flying from Vegas, you'll have to be up and ready at least 1.5 hours before your scheduled departure time. For readers staying in Grand Canyon Village or Tusayan, you need to check in 30 minutes prior.

Morning Flights

There are two reasons for taking morning flights. The first benefit is you're flight will be smoother. Hot air rises and it starts doing so around 11 a.m., resulting in unsettled air that can cause minor turbulence. During summer, you also have late-afternoon Monsoon thunderstorms, which can be avoided by booking a morning flight.

Visibility is the other major reason to fly in the morning. This applies during the summer months when wildfires peak. These burns generate lots of smoke that can and do affect clarity. Dust is present in the air as well and when it combines with smoke can greatly reduce the canyon's awesome views. Interestingly, if you are looking to take a sunset flight, haze actually accentuates the sun’s rays on the canyon’s walls and cliffs.

Concerning tours that land at the bottom of the canyon: Try not to book the "early bird" flights. These West Rim helicopter trips take you to the bottom of the canyon, and it's very likely, especially during winter, that you'll have minimal light down there. Stick with something that leaves the heliport at or around 8 p.m.

What to Wear

Of course, be aware of the weather and dress accordingly. If you are taking a summer tour, wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt, lightweight pants/shorts sunglasses and running shoes. For winter flights, I recommend the same but augmented with a medium-weight jacket, beanie, pants and gloves. Always bring sun block, water and a salty snack.

Naturally, morning flights are in high-demand. If you decide to take a canyon helicopter tour, I strongly recommend booking it in advance. By getting ahead of the curve, so to speak, you'll also have more tours and more a.m. flight times from which to choose. Don't get the impression that waiting until the last minute will get you a better deal. Tour prices fluctuate but not wildly. The big mistake is to purchase seats at the destination as in nearly all cases you'll fork over a premium.


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