Basic 30-Minute South Rim Tour
The North Canyon tour is Papillon Helicopter's most inexpensive South Rim flight. Like all trips over this part of the National Park, helicopters are banned from going below the rim and/or landing on the bottom. That might seem like a drawback but it's not. This package is a humdinger from the get-go, taking you straight across mid-canyon and through the most epic part of the gorge.
The North Canyon departs daily from Grand Canyon National Park Airport, which is located in Tusayan, AZ, the small town that's just outside the main gates of the South Rim and only 10 minutes away by car from Grand Canyon Village. If you're self driving, here's some Google Map links that will get you to the air complex:
Papillon's heliport is the largest and getting there is a piece of cake. Parking is free. Inside, there's a cafe and gift shop. Check-in will be right in front of you as you pass through the front doors. Remember to bring a government-issued I.D. Weight limit per passenger is 275 pounds. If you exceed that, you'll be required to purchase another seat.
Distance from the passenger lounge to one of several heli-pads ranges from 25 to 100 yards. Your FAA-certified pilot/guide will give you a chopper-side safety briefing and instruct you on how to put on your un-inflated water vest (it's inside a small yellow pouch that you wear on a belt). You'll also be shown how to use your harness seat-belt and then it's show time!
The airport is located amid the Kaibab National Forest, home to the largest stand of Ponderosa pine in the U.S. Temperatures are mild during summer and cold during winter as elevation here is a bit more than 6,600 feet. Take off is due north. The chopper will ascend 50 feet or so and then bolt nose-first down the runway. Max speed is over 200 mph.
You'll gain altitude over the Ponderosa and before you know it you're flying over Grand Canyon National Park. The intense part comes about 5 minutes later when the Kaibab Plateau disappears beneath you and you're in the heart of Grand Canyon airspace. You are now in the Dragoon Corridor, the widest, deepest part of a canyon that's more than a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. Pretty heady stuff, especially when you look down and see the Colorado River, which twists and turns its way through the National Park for 277 miles!
The landscape is purely magical. You'll see sandstone spires, cascading cliffs and secret canyons that lead to places few men or women have gone before. Midway, you'll pass Phantom Ranch, a popular place to overnight on the canyon's floor, before reaching the majestic North Rim, a stately place that's 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim. Here you'll loop back, which means you sacrifice nothing in terms of views because you'll see both aspects of the canyon as you go to and fro.
Flight time is 30 minutes.
In most cases the helicopter you'll get is an AStar. These are the workhorses of the sky. Comfortable and surefooted, these aircraft are designed to seat up to six people. Some are equipped with a rear-facing jump seat. I personally enjoy flying the AStar. It's "old school." Some don't, and if you're among that group, no worries, as I recommend you consider upgrading to a tour called The Majestic. It uses an EcoStar 130, which is a modern aircraft that's outfitted with theater-style seating and a 180-degree windshield.
What to Bring
The North Canyon is a photographer's dream. The views on this trip are epic. Make sure to bring your photographic equipment. Barring that, bring your smart phone, personal digital SLR camera or camcorder. People ask me all the time if you can take good pictures from helicopters and the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Just make sure everything is powered up to the max the night before. If you prefer to simply enjoy the view, that's not an issue as you can purchase a DVD of your entire flight in the gift shop.
What to Wear
Earlier, I mentioned that elevation is more than 6,600 feet. Thus, expect mild temperatures in the summer and cold and/or snow in the winter. During the hot months, bring sunscreen, a hat, ChapStick, and sunglasses. Winter conditions will necessitate a lightweight jacket, sunglasses, gloves, a hat, long pants and relatively sturdy footwear. Even though you're not going on safari, there is weather, so prepare accordingly.
The company was launched in 1965 and has grown into the largest Grand Canyon sightseeing company on the planet. Papillon flies more that 600,000 people annually to the National Park. It currently employs more than 600 people and owns a mixed fleet of 48 choppers. The company offers the largest selection of air tours on the market and has by far has the most competitive pricing.
If you're planning on doing the North Canyon, I strongly recommend booking it at least 72 hours in advance. These flights are super popular and sell out quick. Lots of folks presume they can saunter into the Papillon terminal and hop a chopper. Those days are long gone. Try it and you'll probably spend most of your time sipping cappuccinos in the cafe. If you do get a seat, you'll pay out the nose for it. Be savvy - get your seats ahead of time.
Another myth is that you can save money purchasing flights at the destination. Again, not true. If you want a good deal, just follow these steps: 1) Book in advance; and 2) purchase seats online. I only use the Web now. It's the place where Papillon posts its best promotions and I make sure I get them as the discounts really add up when you're booking two or more people. Simply take those two steps to heart and you'll always be ahead of the game.
Have a grand day,
P.S. I rate the top 3 Grand Canyon helicopter tour companies that fly out of Tusayan/South Rim - Arizona. Click here to see who's my #1 choice. .