If your budget is tight or you don’t have a ton of free time, air-only helicopter tours are a terrific way to see the Grand Canyon. Of course, if you have the extra time and money to spend, you may want to consider a landing tour since they are great fun too. That being said, you’ll get a great taste of this magnificent place if you take an aerial helicopter tour.

Air-only Grand Canyon helicopters take off from Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, Arizona (these choppers fly to the South Rim and are a great option for travelers coming from Phoenix and other central AZ cities) and Las Vegas (West Rim only, because the South Rim is too far). If you decide you want to land when you get to the Grand Canyon, then choose a West Rim tour because that is the only place in the canyon where the FAA allows helicopters to descend to the canyon floor.

There are two types of South Rim helicopter tours: the shorter version lasts 30 minutes and flies from the South to the North Rim and back. The longer, 50-minute tour does this too, but it also takes you over highlights like the magnificent Painted Desert, the Colorado River confluence, Imperial Point, Dragoon Corridor (the canyon’s widest, deepest point), and Zuni Corridor. I recommend the longer flight if you can swing it because it’s a much more comprehensive canyon experience.

West Rim helicopter tours take off every day from several airfields located in the Las Vegas metro area. These flights usually last about 3 hours from start to finish. In addition to the canyon, you get to fly over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. Then when you get to the canyon, you will notice the Colorado River flowing along the canyon floor and see interesting formations such as Guano Point, Eagle Point, and the famed glass bridge Skywalk.

This particular tour is an ideal match for a Vegas getaway because it lets you experience the Grand Canyon but doesn’t pull you away from the excitement of the city for too long. If you have plenty of time and want a more thorough canyon experience, I think you might prefer a landing tour. One these tours you descend to the canyon floor in a chopper and enjoy a picnic by the river or float down the Colorado on a raft. If you want an additional thrill, you can add a stroll on the glass Skywalk too.

The best tours to select are the ones that use EcoStar 130 helicopters. Simply put, they’re much better than the AStar aircraft that some companies use. The EcoStar 130 is stable and quiet, plus it is designed for sightseeing with theater style seating, large cabin, and huge window for viewing panoramic vistas.

You should know, Grand Canyon air tours are extremely popular so the fill up quickly. Whenever someone asks, I urge them to book well in advance — at least three days (but seven is even better) before the flight date you want.

I also urge people to book online, because that’s where the best tour deals and discounts always are. Go straight to the tour operator’s website because prices are lower there than they are at Orbitz or Expedia. It pays to buy direct instead of through a middleman. Just make sure you complete the entire transaction on the company’s site so you’ll qualify for the Internet discount. If you mail in your payment or order through customer service you will pay more.

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