For my wife’s 40th birthday we took one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” trips on a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon.
It is getting more difficult to find a tour operator flying out of Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon because the airport authority is expanding and pushing the tours to smaller outlying airports. The coach ride to Boulder City is quick and painless.
The entire pick-up to drop-off experience runs about 4 hours. When you get to the Papillon Aeorplex be prepared to “weigh in”. No passenger can weigh more than 274 pounds and each helicopter needs to be properly balanced for weight.
After a quick safety video you’re introduced to your pilot and walked out to the waiting tarmac. Papillon‘s photographer will take pictures of each couple in front of the chopper (to resell later in the gift shop for $20), but your pilot will also offer to take a picture for you as well.
The 30 minute ride out goes over the Hoover Dam, Joshua Tree forests and dormant volcanoes before plunging into the canyon. You fly past the Hopi Indian skywalk with the pilot offering facts and trivia the whole way.
After landing in the canyon, small picnics are opened with a snack and a sip of champagne. You spend about 30 minutes in the Grand Canyon and it’s total free time. You can wander, take pictures and just take in the awe of the area. The flight back goes over deserted mines, ghost towns and the Colorado canyon.
Book in advance.
Despite all the deals you see on the strip offering “half price flights”, they all end up costing about the same. To make sure you get the flight time you want, do it ahead of time.
Bring your own champagne.
We picked up a couple of small bottles of Nicolas Feuillate at the ABC store. I packed them in ice in a freezer bag and tossed them in the backpack for the trip. While Papillon provides little snack baskets, the bubble is not all that, so BYOB.
The early morning flight goes due east, directly into the rising sun. The lighting makes it hard to take pictures or see what’s going
Get the front seat.
Each helicopter carries 6 people. For an extra $50 per person fee you can reserve the front seats on your ride. It’s not confirmed that it will happen until you check in, but it’s worth it to watch the entire canyon open up in front of you.