Grand Canyon Airplane Tours: South Rim, West Rim Options
No matter which rim you visit, airplane tours of the Grand Canyon give you a terrific experience! They're the fastest way to get there (by far), so you won't lose a big chunk of the day just coming and going. There's also something special about seeing the region's natural beauty from the same perspective as a soaring hawk or eagle.
But that doesn't help you if you're trying to decide on the rim you want to visit, does it? Let's see if I can help. Here are some of my thoughts about the differences between West Rim and South Rim airplane tours. When it comes down to it, though, either rim is a great place to see!
First of all, each rim has different points of interest. But apart from that, I think one of the big differences as far as plane tours are concerned is the fact that you can take landing tours at the West Rim, but not at the South Rim. Put another way, there are West Rim air-only and landing flights, but at South Rim you're limited to air-only airplane tours.
West Rim Flights
West Rim flights take off daily from airfields in the Las Vegas metro area. Air-only airplane tours are great for travelers who don't have much time or just want to see the rim's highlights from the air. Landing tours are a lot more comprehensive and give you a much more in-depth experience.
Either way, you'll fly over majestic Hoover Dam (a manmade wonder in its own right) and Lake Mead before arriving at the West Rim. Once inside Grand Canyon West's airspace, air-only tours fly over:
Landing tours touch down at Grand Canyon West Airport and give you around three hours to explore the same highlights from the ground. It's all terrific, but I specifically recommend checking out the Skywalk - it's one of the West Rim's most amazing attractions. You can get access to the Skywalk by upgrading your tour package to include VIP passes.
Other optional upgrades available at the West Rim include an exhilarating 'copter ride down to the canyon's bottom and a smooth-water rafting trip down the Colorado. In my opinion, this is the rim to go to if you're looking for excitement and adventure!
South Rim Flights
If seeing spectacular landscapes is more your thing, the South Rim is for you. Tours of this section of the canyon take off from Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCA) in Tusayan, AZ, just outside the main South Rim entrance.
All South Rim airplane tours give you terrific birds'-eye views of several Park highlights, including:
If you want, upgrade the standard South Rim airplane tour and add a terrific all-day float tour. The basic rafting package involves a 15+ mile float trip down the Colorado, but a "deluxe" version includes a 4x4 Jeep ride to see the fantastic "slot canyons" at Antelope Canyon. It's something I highly recommend if you can swing it, time-wise and financially. If you can't, you might want to consider the basic float tour, which involves a 2.5-hour bus ride to Glen Canyon Dam wherein you transfer to your pontoon boat for the rafting segment of the trip.
Las Vegas visitors who want to fly to the South Rim have two great options. The basic trip involves a comfortable 60-minute flight to GCA. There you'll board a luxury bus and take an up to 3-hour tour inside the park, where in you'll see Mather Point, Yaki Point, Grand Canyon Village and much more. The deluxe version of this tour includes a 30-minute helicopter tour that goes from the South Rim to the North Rim and back via the Dragoon Corridor, the widest and deepest section of the canyon. This remarkable tour is only six hours from start to finish, which means evening entertainment plans afterwards aren't out of the question.
Type of Aircraft
I get inquiries all the time asking about the size of the planes used on Grand Canyon air tours. Many are under the impression that these are small Cessna planes that can hold up to four people. Couldn't be farther from the truth. Nearly all planes permitted to fly tours are customized DeHavilland Twin Otters. These spacious aircraft hold up to 19 adult passengers and are commanded by two pilots certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The plane's most impressive modifications include oversized windows, recliner-style seats, powerful climate control and individual listening stations that let you hear a pre-recorded narration of the flight in up to 11 languages (e.g. German, French, Portuguese, Spanish and more!).
Las Vegas air tours by nature are all-inclusive. This means they come with everything including:
South Rim aerial tours, by contrast, require that you provide your own transportation to the airport. This is because the majority of travelers self-drive to this part of the Canyon. Here are two Google Map links showing you specifically how to get there:
If you are taking the airplane-rafting tour, hotel pick up, lunch, guide and equipment (e.g. raft, life vest, etc.) are included.
Frankly, I like all-inclusive tours because everything is planned out for me. My only concern is packing snacks, my camera and the appropriate clothing. Further, it takes the guesswork out of pricing: what I pay at check out is the final, fixed price and nothing more.
Be warned: Air tours are incredibly popular. This means they sell out. A lot. The best way to make sure you get your seats is to book ahead of time. My rule of thumb is to RSVP at least a week prior. If I can get more days between me and my desired departure time, I'll do it. Do whatever you can not to book within 24 hours as it will result in:
I'm motivated by these reasons alone to hit the Internet and lock down my trip. Plus, it's one of my pet peeves to plan and book my vacation while I'm enjoying it. In my youth, I wasn't the greatest planner. Now, after benefiting from getting ahead of the curve, I'm all about putting "my ducks in a row" weeks before I hit the road.
The million-dollar question: "How do I get the best price?" It's got to be the #1 query I get from readers [Attn.: Chat now if you need help and/or have a question.] In actuality, getting a great price is simple. First, it starts with booking ahead of time. That alone will save you money. But things get really interesting if you also follow these two steps:
Folks, I've been booking airplane tours for years and this is a system that works. I don't expect it to change in the near term, either. Use it and you, too, can reap the savings like those of us "in the know."
I hope you found this article about West Rim and South Rim airplane tours helpful. My goal was to share with you the types of tours available and from whence you can do them (e.g. Las Vegas, NV, or Tusayan, AZ). The rims are very distinct from each other and thus offer unique sightseeing opportunities that can't be had anywhere else on the planet. Please remember to make your reservation the moment you decide that an air tour is for you. Best practice is to book it at least a week out. Equally important is that you purchase your seat direct online and that you successfully conclude your transaction on the Web. Follow these simple steps and you'll be the proud owner of a Grand Canyon airplane tour that will show you why the National Park is the best of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.