Grand Canyon Airplane Tours
Grand Discovery

Grand Discovery - The South Rim's Best Air Tour for the Money!

Here's a fact for you: Grand Canyon National Park is comprised of more than 1 million acres of wilderness. That's a lot of ground to cover, especially if you're going to spend just a day or two at the National Park. And that's exactly why I like Papillon's Grand Discovery airplane tour. In just under and hour, you'll have seen nearly 75 percent of this natural wonder. To do the same from the ground would take you a week or more!

There are only a handful of aerial tours offered at the South Rim and the Grand Discovery is the best and most affordable. This flight departs every day of the year from Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, AZ. It starts by taking off over the Kaibab National Forest, home to the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the country, before banking right to the Park's eastern boundary. En route, you'll see:

  • Desert Watchtower
  • Zuni Corridor
  • The Colorado River Confluence
  • Imperial Point
  • Temple of Ra

Once you reach the boundary, your pilot will head the plane toward the North Rim. It's here that you'll see:

  • Navajo Bridge
  • The Navajo Indian Reservation
  • Lee's Ferry
  • Painted Desert
  • Horseshoe Bend

Driving from the South Rim to the North Rim takes more than five hours - a fact that highlights why this air tour is so special in terms of how much you see in 60 minutes. Relatedly, you should know that the road that connects the rims is closed from November to May. Thus if you are in the Park at this time, the only way to reach the North Rim is by hiking or by air tour.

north rim grand canyon

From the North Rim, the aircraft banks south, cutting through the Dragoon Corridor, the widest and deepest section of the canyon in its entirety. It's quite spectacular, especially when you consider that the canyon at this juncture is more than a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide! The descent will start, too, and as you make final preparations for landing you will get great aerial views of:

  • El Tovar
  • Bright Angel Trail
  • Bright Angel Lodge
  • The Rim Trail
  • Hopi Point

It's pretty straightforward stuff. Just make sure when you book that you commit the cancel terms to memory and abide by them. Doing that is the most pro-active way to protect your travel investment.

For the sake of brevity, I've only listed the key points of interest. There's much more, all of which your pilot will point out (there's also a pre-recorded narration of the tour that's available in up to 11 languages!). Be assured - you won't miss a thing.


The South Rim is limited in terms of airplane landing tours (unlike the West Rim, which is packed to the gills). However, there is one such tour and it includes a 15-mile rafting trip down the Colorado River. This 1-day adventure starts from the Tusayan airport and makes a straight shot to the municipal airport in Page, AZ. Here you will transfer to a Jeep for a 4x4 off road adventure to Antelope Canyon (famous for its slot canyons). Then it's off to the base of Glen Canyon Dam for the start of the smooth-water rafting tour, which is open to kids as young as four years of age. Here's more information if this tour "floats your boat."

Best Time to Fly

The Grand Discovery departs on the hour. My preference is morning flights (earlier the better). My reasoning for a.m. take-offs is simple:

  1. Better visibility -- This is especially true during summer when dust particles and smoke (perennial forest fires) cause the air to haze;
  2. Smoother air -- Chances of turbulent air increase as the ground warms up and heat rises. This is especially applicable during the summer months.

And don't fret if you can't get a morning flight. This flight is fantastic and recommended regardless of time of day (sunset is also a special time, too!)

south rim mather point

The Plane

It's one of the most common questions I get": "How big is the airplane?" Many are under the impression that the aircraft is a two- or four-seat Cessna. Not true. In all cases, you'll be flying aboard a state-of-the-art, 19-passenger deHavilland Twin Otter, which has been renamed a VistaLiner because it's been customized to include the following:

  • Extra-large cabin
  • Recliner seats (lots of personal space)
  • Oversized windows
  • Wings attached to top of body for unobstructed views
  • Personal headsets
  • Whisper-ride turbine prop engines

Each plane is flown by two pilots, both of whom know the South Rim and the National Park like the back of their hands. I find each pilot's commentary about the landscape to be unique, informative and positively entertaining in ways that significantly enhance the flight. Further, these pilots are best in class, having passed rigorous FAA and annual company exams in order to conduct this flight. Bottom line: You're in good hands.

Grand Canyon Airport

This complex, which is the only state-owned airport in the state of Arizona, lies at an elevation of 6,600 feet. It's located on the southern edge of Tusayan, population 558 according to 2011 U.S. Census data, and its GPS coordinates are 3557'08?N 11208'49?W.

Like lots of you out there, I'm a visual person, too, and I find a quick screenshot of a map helps. Here's one from Google Maps:

grand canyon airport map

I'm being specific because this tour requires you to self-drive to the tour operator's terminal at the airport. If you are staying at a lodge inside Grand Canyon Village, you can hire a taxi through the Bright Angel transportation desk. Drive time is 15 minutes so factor this in as check in is 30 minutes prior to take off.


This flight is hot and sells out on a regular basis. Don't wait until the last minute too book it. Further, don't purchase it upon arrival at the South Rim because:

  • It might be sold out;
  • You probably won't get a morning flight;
  • You will pay a premium price if you do get a seat

The best tack is to book one week in advance. You might be able to get away with 72 hours. However, I like to error on the safe side, especially if I'm preparing a trip for a group or a family or a party of three or more people. Lastly, I dislike making trip plans of this sort when I'm on the road. It's time better spent exploring the canyon, and that's why I like getting it out of the way during the pre-planning stages of a trip.

grand canyon sunrise


Let's cut to the chase: the best prices are on the Internet. The hard part is knowing where to search. I've been at this awhile and there are several things I've learned along the way:

  1. Avoid "big box" travel sites like Priceline, Kayak, Expedia and others. Prices are non-competitive
  2. Book in advance. This is essential to saving cash on trips.
  3. Purchase direct online - By this I mean completing the transaction online on a tour supplier website. These are the folks that own & operate the tours and have the power to release promotions and specials that can save you up to 35%!

Simply follow this easy three-step process and you'll get the Grand Discovery tour at a rate others can't touch.


My goal was to inform you about my favorite South Rim airplane tour, the Grand Canyon Discovery. I really do believe it's the most economical way to see as much of the canyon as possible for travelers planning a one-or-two-day visit. I find this trip to already be an incredible value. However, it can be booked for less, if you put into action the three steps I mentioned earlier. Once you've purchased your flight, get ready for the trip of lifetime. Nothing you've seen before can quite compare to an aerial view of the America's most famous National Park!

Click Here for South Rim Airplane Tour Price & Availability!

Have a GRAND day,



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