50-Minute South Rim Helicopter
Papillon Helicopters' 50-minute helicopter tour is the South Rim's most deluxe flight. Truly, if you're the kind of traveler who wants to see it all, this package is absolutely the one for you.
The Grand Kingdom departs daily, including all major U.S. holidays, from Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, the small Arizona town located just 10 minutes from the front gates of the Park.
The Flight Path (What You'll See)
Unlike basic helicopter tours, which go from South Rim to North Rim and back in 30 minutes, the Kingdom goes to the Park's eastern border. This segment of the route is packed with sights, including Desert Watchtower, the Colorado River Confluence, Marble Canyon, Painted Desert and the Navajo Indian Reservation.
And it doesn't stop there. Now the helicopter will bear left and head to the North Rim. This part of the canyon is the most pristine, and, for all of winter, it's closed to the public due to excessive snowfall. It also comes in 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and is therefore more densely forested and lush.
The helicopter will continue along the North Rim until it reaches the start of the Dragoon Corridor. This particular area of the canyon is the deepest and widest section in the entire National Park. Below, you'll see Phantom Ranch and a variety of surreal buttes, spires and sandstone cliffs that make the Park so special.
Keep your eyes peeled as you descend back to the airport. Depending on where you're sitting, you'll see Bright Angel Trail, Hermit's Rest, Grand Canyon Village and more. You'll know you're close to the airfield as the Kaibab Forest, home to the largest stand of Ponderosa pine in the U.S., rises from the plateau.
Total tour time: 45 minutes
The Grand Kingdom is conducted aboard an EcoStar 130 chopper. This is a big deal even if you're not an aviation nut like me. Why? Because the EcoStar's cabin is 25% larger than conventional helicopters like the AStar. This extra space means each aircraft is outfitted with stadium-raised seats and a 180-degree wraparound windshield. When you combine these two elements, everyone's got the best seat in the house!
But that's not all. The EcoStar is equipped with an incredible A/C unit. This is important because the South Rim is an area of temperature extremes(meaning it gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter). I don't know about you but when I'm taking the ride of a lifetime, I want to be comfortable. These aircraft are also stocked with noise-reduction technology and have been aerodynamically designed to deliver the smoothest flight possible.
Grand Canyon National Park
The South Rim is often referred to as the "official" Grand Canyon. Located in Northern Arizona, the Park is comprised of more than one million acres. The Colorado River, which snakes its way through the canyon for 277 miles, splits it into South Rim and North Rim. Dimensionally speaking, the canyon is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. Classified as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the canyon is home to some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet.
What to Bring & Wear
The goal is to dress comfortably. During summer, it's quite fine to wear shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes (heck, even sandals are OK). I'd also recommend a pair of sunglasses. Winter is cold so bundle up, but not to the point where you are sweating prior to entering the aircraft.
Travelers ask me all the time if there will be opportunities to take pictures. Absolutely yes. Don't worry about the chopper's glass windshield. It has zero effect on how well your pictures turn out. If you are using a camcorder, I recommend turning on your stabilizing feature. Last but not least, please remember to fully charge your digital cameras, smart phones and/or video recorder. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone's device turn off in the middle of the Dragoon Corridor due to "low battery."
Helicopter flights over the South Rim are limited. As such, I always recommend booking in advance. How many days ahead of time? At least three. Ideally, a week is best. Please don't take this lightly. I've met many a traveler who is convinced that booking at the destination is cheaper. It's just not so.
I'm a big fan of discount fares. If the tour company is doling them out, you can bet I'll be the first one to bite. Especially if you can save up to 30%! How do you get these deals? By buying direct from the tour operator's website. I know, it sounds illogical. But I kid you not. The savings can be quite sizeable, too, especially if you are booking a group of two or more.
Have a grand day,
P.S. I rate the top 3 Grand Canyon helicopter tour companies that fly out of Tusyan/South Rim - Arizona. Click here to see who's my #1 choice. .