Tim United States 21 Comments

A Grand Canyon helicopter tour can be a thrilling way to experience the awe-inspiring views and stunning beauty that the Grand Canyon has to offer. Soar across the Grand Canyon like an eagle and be amazed by the sheer size and grandeur of the canyon.

Helicopter tours depart from Las Vegas, the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, and from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This article captures valuable insights from what we learned after researching the various options, after taking a helicopter flight ourselves, and after road tripping between Las Vegas, the West Rim, and the South Rim.

Map for Helicopter Article

Map of Las Vegas, the West Rim, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon


Flights from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

There are three helicopter companies that offer tours from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: Maverick Helicopters, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, and Grand Canyon Helicopters. They all fly out of the airport that is located in Tusayan, AZ, which is about a 15-minute drive south of Grand Canyon Village.

Due to regulations, these companies fly the same two routes. And both routes are “air only” routes meaning that they don’t land within the Grand Canyon.

30 Minute Tour of the Grand Canyon

There is a 25-30 minute out-and-back route that flies from the South Rim to the North Rim and then turns around to follow a similar trajectory back to the airport.

This offers an advantage as passengers on both sides of the helicopter will get to see similar views out their window, which can make it easier to take photos. Plus, the portion of the Grand Canyon this flight crosses is called the Dragon Corridor. The Dragon Corridor is the widest and deepest section of the Grand Canyon, so the views are spectacular.

Helicopter flight path

Image from Maverick Helicopters

The Three Companies that Offer this Tour:

Papillon refers to this route as the North Canyon Tour. This tour uses Bell helicopters and prices start at $219 per person and go up from there. If you book the North Canyon Tour with an EcoStar helicopter, the prices start at $259 per person. More on the difference between these helicopters later in the article.

Grand Canyon Helicopters refers to this route as the Majestic. Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon are sister companies, so even though the name of the tour is different, it is the same as booking the North Canyon Tour with EcoStar through Papillon. You’ll end up on the same helicopter regardless of which company you make the reservation through.

Maverick refers to this route as the Canyon Dancer Tour for $279 per person. They use the EcoStar EC-130 helicopter.

45 Minute Tour of the Grand Canyon

There is also a 45-50 minute counterclockwise route. This allows you see the eastern part of the Grand Canyon and more of the North Rim before returning on a similar route across the Dragon Corridor that the 25-30 minute tour follows. So, you get to experience even more of the Grand Canyon’s spectacular views in addition to the Dragon Corridor.

Flight Path

Image from Maverick Helicopters

The Three Companies that Offer this Tour:

Papillon refers to this route as the Imperial with EcoStar Tour. Prices start at $309 per person and use the EcoStar EC-130 helicopter as the name of the tour suggest.

Grand Canyon Helicopters refers to this route as the Grand Kingdom. Again, even though the name of the tour is different, it is the same as booking the Imperial with EcoStar Tour through Papillon. You will end up on the same helicopter regardless of which tour you book.

Maverick refers to this route as the Canyon Spirit Tour for $309 per person. They use the EcoStar EC-130 helicopter.

We opted for the 45-50 minute flight in order to see more of the Grand Canyon and to enjoy the flying experience longer. We have more information about our experience later in this article.

Flights from Las Vegas to the West Rim

Helicopter tours departing from Las Vegas offer many tempting options to choose from, including options to land in the Grand Canyon, options to return at sunset so you can see the lights along the Vegas Strip, and options that can be combined with other excursions. Many of these flights also fly over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, and some even include champagne.

Prices can range anywhere from $250 per person to over $500 per person. Maverick offers a tour that includes a flight over the Las Vegas strip and 30 minutes on the ground in Grand Canyon west. If you book an afternoon flight, you can see the Las Vegas city flights when you return to the city. Even though this flight does not go do the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it still sounds like a wonderful tour, since you also get to see Las Vegas.

It should be noted that the majority of these tours from Las Vegas visit the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, not the South Rim. And while we have not flown over the West Rim ourselves, we did travel to the West Rim portion by car and observed this part of the Grand Canyon from the Skywalk, Eagle Point, and Guano Point.

You can read about our experience in our article Is the Grand Canyon Skywalk Worth It?

The West Rim of the Grand Canyon is nice to see but it does not have the same jaw-dropping views as the South Rim. Someone only seeing the Grand Canyon from the West Rim would miss out on the true grandeur and vastness that you experience at the South Rim.

Views from the West Rim

West Rim Grand Canyon

West Rim of the Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon West Rim

Eagle Point, Another View of the West Rim

Views from the South Rim

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour Worth It

View from Mather Point on the South Rim


Grand Canyon South Rim

The view from Yaki Point on the South Rim

Any helicopter ride from Vegas would be a fun and memorable experience, but if this is your one chance to see the Grand Canyon then we highly recommend that you see it from the South Rim. Words cannot describe the stunning beauty of the Grand Canyon at the South Rim. It will leave you speechless.

Flights from Las Vegas Where You Can See the South Rim

Luckily, there are several tours that will fly you on a small prop plane from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon National Park Airport. This airport is located in Tusayan, just south of the Grand Canyon Village. This is the same airport that I mentioned earlier in this article for flights from the South Rim.

You board a helicopter and fly over the Dragon Corridor, which is the widest and deepest section of the Grand Canyon. This is the 25-30 minute out-and-back route described above. Then, they will provide land transportation into Grand Canyon National Park. From here, you can also enjoy some of the panoramic vistas along the edge of the South Rim. Finally, you fly back to Las Vegas by prop plane the same day.

Two Companies that Offer This Tour

Papillon refers to tour this as the Grand Canyon Connoisseur with Helicopter Tour. This tour last about 9.5 hours and prices start at $660 per person.

Maverick refers to this tour as the Canyon Dream. This tour lasts about 7 hours and cost $544 per person.

Variations of This Tour

Papillon offers an option without the helicopter flight called the Grand Canyon Connoisseur Tour. You fly to the Grand Canyon by plane, spend roughly 3 hours touring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, fly back to Las Vegas by plane. You do not get the helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon. This tour last about 9.5 hours and prices start at $579 per person.

All of these are great options to consider if you are in Las Vegas and only have one day to see the Grand Canyon. These options allow you to see the most dramatic portion of the Grand Canyon, where you can really appreciate the sheer size of the canyon.

Flights from the West Rim

Helicopter Tours departing from the West Rim of the Grand Canyon only cover the West Rim portion of the canyon. Some of these tours will land in the canyon and let you walk around. Papillon and Mustang Helicopters (see links below) provide service at the West Rim and prices start at $175 per person.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a helicopter tour that will travel from the West Rim to the South Rim. If you are planning a trip to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon then read our article here about the West Rim. While you can have a nice experience at the West Rim, you do not get to experience the enormity and splendor of the Grand Canyon until you see it from the South Rim. So, if this is your one chance to see the Grand Canyon then we recommend seeing it from the South Rim instead.

Companies Offering Helicopter Flights of the Grand Canyon

Maverick Helicopters:  Offers flights departing from the Grand Canyon South Rim and from Las Vegas

Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters:  Offers flights departing from the Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon West Rim, and from Las Vegas

Grand Canyon Helicopters:  Offers flights departing from Grand Canyon South Rim and from Las Vegas

Sundance Helicopters:  Offers flights departing from Las Vegas

Mustang Helicopters:  Offers flights departing from Grand Canyon West Rim and from Las Vegas

Grand Canyon

Factors to Consider when Booking a Flight

Since we wanted to fly over the South Rim area of the Grand Canyon I only researched Maverick, Papillon, and Grand Canyon Helicopters because they are the only companies that offer service in the South Rim area.


Here is an article that summarizes “Air Tour Accidents at and around Grand Canyon” since 1980 and includes links to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports.

According to this article, Maverick has had 5 non-fatal incidents and 0 fatal incidents since 1980. Whereas, Papillon has had 5 non-fatal incidents and 4 fatal incidents since 1980. Papillon’s most recent fatal incident occurred in February 2018.

Grand Canyon Helicopters has not had any incidents, but they are a sister company of Papillon and their terms and conditions state “Papillon Airways, Inc., d/b/a Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, also d/b/a Grand Canyon Helicopters, will operate any helicopter flight(s) you have booked.”

We also looked at how these companies promote a safe flying experience on their own websites.

Maverick states that they are a recipient of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) distinguished “Diamond Award”. I did some more digging and this article explains that they have received the award 7 times. The article further states “The prestigious honor is a result of the company’s ongoing dedication to maintenance training and aircraft safety.”

Papillon states on their website that they are certified by the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS), which is “an organization whose main goal is to ensure safety and reliability throughout the air tour industry”. This means Papillon has agreed to operate to stands that far exceed the operating standards set by the FAA. The Grand Canyon Helicopters website has similar wording.

There is always some risk with any aviation experience. The probability of being involved in an incident is low when you think about the number of flights and passengers flown each year. But the numbers from the report, and the FAA awards, were still a key factor when we ultimately selected to fly with Maverick.

Type of Helicopter

The EcoStar EC-130 helicopter is designed more for tourism as it is quieter, passengers can communicate with each other through the headsets, it has a 180° field of view, and forward facing stadium style seating.

The Bell Helicopter is noisier, passengers can only listen to the pilot over the headsets and can’t talk to each other, and the seating is configured such that there is only one front passenger seat with bench style seating in the rear, meaning passengers in the rear are facing each other with the windows on the sides.

The majority of the helicopter tours in the South Rim area use the EcoStar EC-130 helicopter. Papillon offers one tour (North Canyon Tour) that uses the Bell Helicopter and this is the cheapest tour option.

Selection for a Front Seat

For safety reasons, front row seating is determined by the pilot at the time of your flight and is based on balancing the weight of the helicopter. We provided our weight when we made our reservation and we stood on a scale when we checked in for our flight.

For flights using the EcoStar EC-130 helicopters, Papillon gives you the option to request a front seat when you make your reservation. If you make this request and are selected to sit in a front seat, then Papillon will charge you an extra $50 per person when you check in for your flight.

Grand Canyon Helicopters does not mention the ability to request front row seating on their website, but you are booking the same helicopter flights as if you booked through Papillon so perhaps you can make this request during the reservation process. Or just book through Papillon instead.

Maverick on the other hand, does not charge extra if you get selected to sit in the front row.

Even if you request a front seat, it is not guaranteed. Ultimately, it depends on the other passengers and weight distribution, and the pilot has the final say in deciding who gets a front seat.

Grand Canyon from Helicopter

Hidden Fees

Papillon’s online prices are listed as “starting at,” meaning they may add additional fees and/or fluctuate the price based on date/time. So, use their “Check Prices and Availability” feature to look for the total price. You will also pay more if you request a front seat in advance and you get selected.

Grand Canyon Helicopters online prices for a given flight appear to match that of Papillon. But again, they are both selling the same flights.

Maverick’s website states a single total price for each tour that is inclusive of the Flight + Fees + Fuel Surcharge.

Flight Video

Maverick has a camera pod attached underneath their helicopters. They record your flight as well as the audio overlay from your headsets (music and talking). At the end of your flight they give you the option to purchase this as a souvenir. Currently they only provide it on a DVD but I was told that they are working on being able to offer a digital copy of the video.

Papillon and Grand Canyon Helicopters do not offer any video capture service for their South Rim helicopter flights.

Best Time for Photography

We spoke to our pilot and two tour companies for their advice on the best time for photography. We got a mixed bag of answers. 

During the morning hours, you risk having foggy conditions. In the afternoon, the skies can get hazy. Everyone we spoke to could not agree on what is the best time for photography. I would think that the late morning to early afternoon is your best bet, in order to avoid the fog and the haze. 

Our photos were taken on a 9 am tour in December. 

About Our Experience

When we originally planned our trip to the Grand Canyon the four of us were going to hike the South Kaibab trail down to the Colorado River and then back up the Bright Angel Trail. This is known as the South Rim to South Rim hike.

Unfortunately, before our trip Kara injured her leg. A long, strenuous hike was not going to be possible for her. So, we split up. While Julie and Tyler descended into the depths of the Grand Canyon, Kara and I soared over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.

We booked the Canyon Spirit flight with Maverick Helicopters. This is their 45-50 minute flight route that departs from the Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, AZ.

We selected Maverick Helicopters because they have not had any fatal incidents, they have received distinguished FAA awards, and because they did not charge extra if we were selected to sit in the front.

When we checked in at the Maverick Helicopters building, they took our weight and gave us a safety briefing. Our pilot, a formal Blackhawk pilot in the US Army, then assigned the seats based on weight distribution and balance. Kara and I sat in the front row seats with the pilot and a family of three sat just behind us in the back row.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Flight

Tim and Kara Helicopter

We put on our headsets to block out the noise of the helicopter. Now we could all talk to each other and listen to music that the pilot played. Appropriately, with a company named Maverick, some of the songs played were from the Top Gun soundtrack.

Our helicopter lifted off the ground and we headed east across the Kaibab Forest. We flew over the Kaibab Forest for a bit before flying over the rim of the canyon and being greeted with our first breathtaking view of the canyon. As we headed towards the confluence of the Little Colorado River, our pilot pointed out interesting facts about the huge canyon walls, a fault line, mesas, and more.

We then turned and flew towards the North Rim. Once we crossed the northern rim of the canyon we flew towards Dragon’s Corridor. Following Dragon’s Corridor put us on a trajectory back towards the South Rim and ultimately back to the airport.

Photos and words cannot describe how spectacular this part of Grand Canyon is. You definitely have to see if for yourself to truly appreciate it. Be prepared to be stunned by its beauty!

Helicopter View Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Is a Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon Worth It?

If you are in Las Vegas and only have one day to see the Grand Canyon, one of the tours from Las Vegas to the South Rim area is worth it. The Grand Canyon is simply amazing and you cannot fully appreciate its size and grandeur until you see it from the South Rim.

If you are already at the South Rim, a helicopter ride will add an extra thrill to your experience.  It would also let you see parts of the Grand Canyon that you cannot see from the South Rim viewpoints, and learn interesting facts about the Grand Canyon from your pilot.

But at the same time, the viewpoints along the South Rim Trail are amazing. Adding the helicopter tour would let you see additional parts of the canyon and add some extra adventure to your trip.

Final Things to Consider

These flights are popular so we recommend making a reservation in advance to make sure you get the date and time that works best for your schedule. During the busy seasons of summer, Christmas, Spring Break, and holiday weekends, plan on making these reservations at least several weeks in advance.

Bring sunblock and sunglasses. On a sunny day, you can get a sunburn even while inside the helicopter.

And of course, don’t forget your camera!

For more information about Grand Canyon National Park, check out our Guide to Grand Canyon National Park. Get important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.

Helicopter Tours of the Grand Canyon


Are you considering taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon? Comment below if you have any questions or if you want to share your experience.

More Information for Your Trip to the Grand Canyon:

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

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Grand Canyon Helicopter Flight


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Comments 21

  1. Avatar for STEVE DENENBERG

    hi julie im going on a helicopter ride to the gc and am a photographer do they frown on camera backpacks? i want to take my 5d mk3 and 2 lenses 12 to 24 70 to 200. we are 4 people 3 guys 200 lbs and a girl 125 lbs. anyway what can you bring on the copter. i have a go pro also but want to take my phone extra batteries a flash, because we will land on the canyon floor. just dont want to bring it if its not going to be used, Thank you your pictures and info are great

    1. Avatar for Julie

      I’m not sure what the policy is for backpacks. Bringing the camera and lenses is fine but you might want to call the company you plan to use and ask them if you can bring your backpack. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Arbaz Surti
    Arbaz Surti

    Thank you for this amazing blog. It is helping me so much to plan my first trip to the Grand Canyon. I just had a quick question:

    I plan to take a helicopter tour from the South Rim and want to choose the early morning late afternoon time of 10: 30 am ( or maybe even 12:15 pm). I will be staying in Tusayan. What do you think I could do in the early morning in order to be back in time to take the flight from Grand Canyon Park National Airport?


    1. Avatar for Julie

      If you don’t mind waking up early, visiting some of the South Rim viewpoints at or right after sunrise is a great thing to do in the Grand Canyon. Just check the shuttle times first, but I recommend those on Hermit Road. You might not have time for all of them but you can get recommendations on our favorites on our South Rim Viewpoints Guide. Another option is to hike the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. You will need to use the shuttle to do this and this hike is about 2 miles round trip and it could take 1 to 2 hours (it’s a steep, strenuous hike back up to the rim). Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Kenneth Bates
    Kenneth Bates

    Do you how how much the video/photos cost for the Maverick flight? Also, do you have any idea how the weight is determined? I’m a 6 220lb male. Just from seeing other comments, I’m worried about getting an inside seat after paying 400 dollars.

    1. Avatar for Julie

      I don’t recall how much the videos cost from the flight. When you get to their facility, you will stand on their scale. Then the pilot determines where everyone sits based on their weight. He will be balancing out everyone’s weights for the flight. You can request a window seat but the pilot has the final say. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for S. Richards
    S. Richards

    Hi I am planning on booking the helicopter flight for a present on an exact date. If the flight is cancelled due to weather etc. are we able to get a refund or do another activity? Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie

      I recommend confirming with the company with whom you are booking your flight what their cancellation policy is. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Ivan Castagna
    Ivan Castagna

    You guys shoot great pictures. i’m really intorno photography…can you get great pictures from the helicopter despite the glass?
    Also, best time of the day to fly in your opinion! You guys are great and inspiration!!! 🙂

    1. Avatar for Julie

      Hello Ivan. All the photos that you see in this post were taken through the glass of the helicopter (so yes, you can still get good photos 🙂 ). The best time for photography is late morning to early afternoon. Early in the day the canyon can be foggy. It the afternoon, a haze can cover the canyon. This is what our pilot told us. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Ivan Castagna
      2. Avatar for Barb hildebrand
        1. Avatar for Julie
  6. Avatar for Jasmine Erdman
    Jasmine Erdman

    HI! My family are loving your blog. WE actually are planning two separate trips right now and found your posts on both places coincidentally! We are heading to Las Vegas and doing a day trip to the grand canyon. You mention that the South rim is definitely where you should go if you are a first timer. We were originally scheduled to do the shorter west rim trip prior to reading your post, but we didn’t want to miss out on that postcard wide view of the grand canyon as this is probably the only time we will be here. The maverick tour only takes you to to Bright angel lodge where you have one hour. I looked up the view there and it isn’t listed as a top view anywhere and an hour probably won’t be enough time I assume to shuttle to the better views. If we are not going to get that picture perfect view like you see in all the postcards, is it still worth it to go to the south rim and view near El Tovar/Bright angel as opposed to the easy trip to the west? Do you feel you get that picture perfect view from the copter ride and therefore wouldn’t need the best on the ground? Thanks for any advice!

    1. Avatar for Julie

      Hello Jasmine. The view from the Bright Angel Lodge is very nice and it will be much better than anything you would see at the west rim. It is a wide, expansive view and the first time I visited the Grand Canyon (in 2002) this was the view I had and it was awesome. Plus, if you are flying by helicopter, you are going to have many more amazing views. In my opinion, it’s worth going to the south rim for the view (versus the west rim). If you are driving from Vegas, then that’s a big day, and staying one night on the south rim would be better. But if you are taking the helicopter flight to the South Rim from Vegas, I think that would be a great experience. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Mrs. Smith
    Mrs. Smith

    The Grand Canyon is a one in a life time experience. While I understand the seating according to weight distribution for safety reasons, the way the pilot assigned my seat totally ruined the trip for me. I’m a 5’4 woman weighing only 109 lbs, yet I got sandwiched in the back seat in the middle between three other people. I was unable to see or enjoy the views from either side or front, yet alone take pictures. The pilot commented the pictures can be shared. I started listening to music on my phone to make the time go faster and forget my misery that cost $400. My advice to you: never pay for a flight unless you have prime seating.

    1. Avatar for Julie

      I’m sorry to hear about your seating arrangement. This was a big concern for us as well, since you cannot pick your seat or know where you will be seated until after you pay your fee.

  8. Avatar for Robert Martin
    Robert Martin

    Really nicely written Tim. Late morning to early afternoon is indeed the best time for photography from a helicopter. During this time, the sun is directly overhead, forming shorter shadows. Later in the evening, there would be longer shadows and even the issue of less light.

  9. Avatar for Ron Booker
    Ron Booker

    I like that you said that taking a helicopter ride over the grand canyon lets you see parts that you cannot see from the south rim. My wife and I want to take our first helicopter ride and we are looking for places to visit. Thank you for pointing out the benefits of taking a helicopter tour over the grand canyon.

    1. Avatar for Julie
  10. Avatar for Deepa Kartha
    Deepa Kartha

    Wow! Its truly amazing experience. I love Grand Canyon and it is my favorite national park in the USA. And yes agree with this, photos and words cannot describe Grand Canyon. You should visit & experience that stunning helicopter tour 🙂

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