Helicopter Tour Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour: Everything You Need to Know

Tim Rivenbark United States 4 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 $209 per person and go up from there. If you book the North Canyon Tour with an EcoStar helicopter, the prices start at $249 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 $269 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 $299 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 $299 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.

It should be noted that the majority of these tours 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 RimGrand 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 $494 per person.

Maverick refers to this tour as the Canyon Dream. This tour lasts about 7 hours and cost $534 per person.

Variations of This Tour

Both Papillon and Maverick also offer 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 $324 per person.

Maverick’s variation substitutes the small prop plane flight between Las Vegas and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with land transportation. And they substitute the 25-30 minute out-and-back helicopter route with the 45-50 minutes counterclockwise route. They refer to this tour as the Southwest Escape Tour. This tour last 12-13 hours and prices are $419 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 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.

Safety

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!


Comments 4

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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