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After some tragic accidents and numerous noise complaints, helicopter tours below the rim of the Grand Canyon have been strictly regulated to only certain areas of the canyon. Some Grand Canyon helicopter tours offer tours outside the park boundaries as a way around these strict rules. Helicopters fly to the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Lands, and east over the Little Colorado River and Navajo lands, too. While there have been accidents, most tour operators have been offering helicopter tours over the canyon for decades without a problem. Many also offer quieter helicopters for a better experience.
Several Grand Canyon helicopter operators offer tours combining different views of the Grand Canyon. Tourists can take a helicopter flight over the canyon, and then fly to Page, Arizona, where they catch a river raft for a smooth-water tour through the upper section of section of the Grand Canyon.
After the whitewater trip, they board buses at Lee's Ferry for the return trip to the Grand Canyon. Other tours fly to Grand Canyon West, where a helicopter picks them up, drops them at the bottom of the canyon for a river tour, and then picks them up when the tour is over. These tours take the better part of a day, and you need to make advance reservations in most cases.
Before you pack your bags, check with your particular air tour company to see if they have restrictions on what you bring aboard. Definitely bring:
• A still camera or video camera, the view from the air is entirely different than the view from the rim or below.
• Binoculars. Some tours get close enough to the rim and inner canyon for tourists to view native wildlife.
• Bring water if the tour is longer than an hour or so.
• Bring a sweater or jacket, especially in the winter months. It's cooler the higher you go in elevation, so even if it's hot outside, you may get chilly inside the aircraft.
• Try to leave purses and backpacks behind, they can take up too much room and get in the way in small airplanes and helicopters.
If you're traveling with a large group to the Grand Canyon, many air tour companies will charter a private Grand Canyon airplane ride for your group. If you're an experienced pilot with a current license, you may also be able to charter a plane from some companies, or charter a plane at another airport and fly into Grand Canyon Airport.
An airplane ride over the Grand Canyon is an unforgettable experience. While air travel below the rim has been curtailed inside the park, some of the air tour operators offer trips outside park restricted space so visitors can still have the experience of riding below the rim.
You can fly over the Grand Canyon in a memorable helicopter flight, but many tour operators offer flights over the surrounding area, too. For example, some flights cover Monument Valley, east of the Grand Canyon, while some head north to Page and Marble Canyon or south to beautiful Sedona.
Many helicopter flights also originate outside the Grand Canyon area, in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Boulder City, Scottsdale, and Flagstaff. If you can't spend more than a few hours exploring the canyon, booking a Grand Canyon helicopter flight out of Flagstaff, Williams, or other cities can at least give you a bird's eye view of the park.
Grand Canyon Airlines boasts they were the first company to fly scenic Grand Canyon airplane tours. That explains the presence of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane at the entrance to Grand Canyon Airlines terminal at the Grand Canyon Airport.
During the late 1970s, Grand Canyon Airlines used the Tri-Motor as part of their fleet for very special tours, and now, the "Tin Goose" still flies at an occasional air show around the country. In the winter, the Tri-Motor moves to the Planes of Fame Air Museum, located in the tiny community of Valle, about 30 miles south of the Grand Canyon.
Check with Grand Canyon Airlines if you'd like to know more about the Tri-Motor.
Many tour operators offer tours from Grand Canyon Airport, but also from the Las Vegas area as well. Helicopter tours are especially popular out of Vegas, especially to the western Grand Canyon regions. Some operators even specialize in Grand Canyon weddings.
The bride and groom fly via helicopter to a remote cliff top overlooking the Grand Canyon, where they exchange vows with an ordained minister. Catering and guest transportation is also available with some of these helicopter packages.
Other Grand Canyon Las Vegas helicopter excursions allow visitors to land at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, enjoy a raft trip, and then fly back to Vegas when the trip is over. Each tour operator is different, so check out several tours to find the right one for your needs.
Expect to be blown away by your Grand Canyon helicopter experience. Nothing comes close to whizzing over the pinyon pines at nearly tree level until the world seems to drop away beneath your feet. As you rush over the rim, a new world opens up in front of your eyes, created by wind, water, and the forces of nature.
Because almost the entire helicopter cockpit is glass (or Plexiglas), views are spectacular and you can see more of everything around you during your ride. Helicopters can also maneuver better than fixed wing aircraft, so they can get closer to some of the buttes and formations inside the canyon. The views and the experience are utterly breathtaking.
Valle, Arizona, is little more than a crossroads where highways 64 and 180 meet. Located about 30 miles south of the South Rim entrance, there's little there but a gas station, hotel rooms, "Flintstone Village" for the kids, and the Planes of Fame Air Museum for the bigger kids in the family.
Planes of Fame operates a legendary Air Museum in Chino, California, and this is an off-shoot of that museum. In concert with Grand Canyon Airlines, the museum is developing an exhibit on the history of Grand Canyon airplane tours, and the owner of Grand Canyon Airlines is trying to locate at least one type of every airplane his company has used for tours over the years.