When's The Best Time to Take a Grand Canyon Airplane Tour?
Seeing the Grand Canyon by air is an experience you'll probably never forget. We're talking about one of the world's most magnificent sights: the Grand Canyon is one of the "official" Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It's huge, though, covering more than a million acres of wilderness. It's so big (277 miles long, 18 miles wide and up to a mile deep) that most of its vast expanse is unreachable unless you take one of the helicopter or airplane tours that fly every day.
The sheer size of the National Park is just one of the reasons why airplane tours are so popular. For one thing, a Grand Canyon airplane will get you there quickly. Just to give you an idea of how important that is, the one-way bus ride from Vegas to the West Rim is 2 ½ hours; it takes 5 ½ hours just to get to the South Rim from Las Vegas. As you can see, Grand Canyon bus trips are all-day affairs.
In contrast, you can take a 45-minute air-only Grand Canyon airplane tour, or even one of the longer, more comprehensive 4- to 6-hour landing tours if you're visiting the West Rim. You won't come back from one of these airplane tours totally exhausted like you might if you'd taken a 12- or 13-hour bus tour. And airplane tours are the way to go if you're short on time or have a show booked that evening in Vegas.
Even so, it's important to know that not all Grand Canyon airplane tours are equally good. The time of day you fly can make a tremendous difference. In addition to picking a time that fits your schedule, there's another big consideration when you're choosing the time of your flight: air clarity and turbulence.
The air is usually clearer and calmer during the morning than later in the day. Whether you're going to the West Rim or the South Rim, take a morning flight - one that's taking off at or before noon - to ensure the best visibility and a smoother, less bumpy ride. You want to see the area's spectacular natural beauty as clearly as possible. You also don't want to risk a flight cancellation or a bout with airsickness caused by turbulent air.
Morning flights are especially important for summer airplane tours of the West Rim, as the high desert heat tends to lead to regular (but brief) thunderstorms in the afternoons. The South Rim is at a higher altitude and tends to be cooler than the West Rim, so afternoon storms there aren't quite as common and the timing of your flight isn't quite as important from that perspective.
Morning Grand Canyon airplane flights also let you beat the worst of the heat if you're visiting during the summer - something that's important if you're at the West Rim, where summer temps routinely soar over 100 degrees F. That's not so much of a concern at the higher-altitude South Rim because it isn't as hot during a summer day, but I still think morning flights give you a better time.
The whole area is considered high desert, which means winters are cool to very cold, with snow common at the South Rim. Although the lower-altitude West Rim is warmer than the South, winters at both rims can be chilly so it's important to wear warm clothing including:
A late-morning flight and the right clothing will help you avoid some of the effects of the cold winter weather at the Park.
Type of Plane
In nearly all cases you'll fly in a deHavilland Twin Otter, which is a beauty of an aircraft that's perfectly suited for air tourism. Most companies have taken this 19-seater and overhauled it specifically for sightseeing. Such customizations include:
In addition, two FAA-certified pilots man all air tours. Not only is this a nod to safety, but it also lets one pilot narrate the trip. Based on my experiences, these guys really know their stuff about the National Park and contribute greatly to your overall canyon experience.
Kinds of Tours
There are two types of airplane tours: Aerial and landing. Air-only flights are great if you have limited time and see as much of the canyon as possible without leaving your seat. They are also the least expensive. Landing tours are more extensive and require more time. Personally, I'm more partial to the later because you'll discover the National Park from a multiple of perspectives.
West Rim aerial tours fly a route that's loaded with such landmark sights like:
South Rim aerial trips let you see:
Of course, there's more to see, but to my mind these are the most significant points of interest.
The West Rim is chock full of landing tours. There are two that stand out. The first includes a helicopter ride to the bottom. This in and of itself is unique because the West Rim is the only place where you can fly to the base. Then there's the flight that includes full-access to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that let's you walk 70 feet past the edge until you are standing 4,000 feet over the bottom!
Landing packages at the South Rim are limited because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NPS (National Park Service) ban all aircraft from flying below the edge. That said, there's and incredible landing package that includes a Colorado River rafting tour. It's a 1-day smooth-water adventure that's open to kids as young as four years of age. Believe me, if you're looking for a spectacular way to spend a day, this is a must-do trip.
Airplane tours are a hot commodity. As such, they sell out. One day, tour companies will add more planes. Until then, the workaround here is to book early. I recommend reserving your seats at least 1 week in advance. Two weeks is even better. The worst thing you can do is try to book a flight within 24 hours. Do that and:
"If I Cancel?"
This is the #1 reason why people don't RSVP. It's a legitimate concern, especially if you purchase your seats from an unreliable third-party liquidator on the Internet. So let me set the record straight: Book with stand-up supplier and you'll get a cancel/change policy that's rock-solid. By this I mean fine print that says:
Go with a tour company that offers these terms and you can confidently book a flight as far in advance as you are comfortable with.
Seems these days everyone's got a great deal to offer. However, once you look "behind the curtain," it's lousy. I know because I've been there. My advice is this:
We all know by now that the best deals are on the Web. However, finding real, sustentative offers take a lot of work (sometimes days!). Save yourself a bunch of time. Go direct. These are the folks who own and operate the aircraft and pay the pilots, and, thusly, have the ultimate power to offer special pricing and promotions. Once you are on their site, the key thing to remember is this:
Seems obvious but I've heard too many horror stories where good-intentioned travelers have gotten the rug pulled from under them by aggressive salespeople over the phone. Avoid that mess. Order online, and then spend all day on the phone conversing with these folks (if you must!)
I hope this article about the best time to take a Grand Canyon airplane tour was beneficial. As I've explained to hundreds of travlers over the years, get a morning flight. Next best are sunset flights. Both are more comfortable and the views are better. Consider, too, what time of the year you'll be flying and dress accordingly. The National Park is a land of extremes. Be prepared and you're trip will be infinitely better. Lastly, make sure you RSVP. And make sure you do it online. Use the tips offered in this article and I can assure you that you're flight will be first-rate in terms of fun, excitement and value!