“ Experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon from the skies. Papillon is the only Helicopter Company certified to fly both the South and West Rim of the Grand Canyon. „
Papillon Helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas.
When we visited Las Vegas we wanted to do a trip to the Grand Canyon. Having searched the internet for various options the most striking trip was one by helicopter from McCarran international airport which landed on the Canyon floor after descending 4000 feet deep into the Canyon.
There are various permutations available when visiting the Canyon including:-
Fly over the Canyon by plane.
Fly out by plane then take helicopter into the Canyon.
Drive out by coach take a plane or helicopter
Fly out by plane, river cruise, back by coach.
Fly out by helicopter landing on the floor of the Canyon.
There were so many options available taking from 3 hours to 12 hours in total and of course the various options came with a price. No matter what your budget is it is a fantastic opportunity to do a trip while you are in that part of the USA.
Having never flown in a helicopter I was quite excited by the prospect of a trip into the Grand Canyon when I was in Las Vegas. I had booked the trip prior to leaving the UK and they emailed back the arrangements to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the Heli port at McCarran international airport in Las Vegas.
Although the trip was expensive it was worth every penny. IT cost approximately £200 but that included an evening helicopter trip up the Las Vegas strip on another day.
The day of the trip. We had got up early and had breakfast and at the allotted time made our way to the hotel entrance. On cue the minibus turned up with another two couples in it and we headed off to the airport. The driver was very friendly and while on the bus a small presentation was shown about safety aspects of the trip. The video showed you how to use the seat belts and how to evacuate the helicopter in an emergency. Whilst watching that it lasted approximately 7 minutes and before we knew it we had arrived at the heliport.
We went into the reception area and checked in. We presented our email confirmation and then we were asked to stand directly in front of the lady checking us in. Unknown to us we were actually being weighed. The weight of the passengers determines where you are likely to be sitting in the helicopter the heavier you are the further back you sit. If you have a window seat you are more or less guaranteed a phenomenal view especially if you are sitting in the front. If you are of a slightly larger size and sitting in the back of the helicopter then the views are a bit more restricted due to the two passengers in the front and if you are sat in the middle without leaning over the person sitting next to you the view is very restricted. So if travelling as a couple you can always change places on the return trip.
The helicopter took 7 passengers and the pilot.
Whilst drinking a glass of champagne we watched the safety presentation again and how to approach the helicopter. There were strict instructions about not approaching the helicopter until told to do so. Safety appeared to be a priority which pleased us.
We watched our helicopter arrive and the occupants alighted we were waiting just inside the security door. All of a sudden the guy opened the door and said follow me staying strictly in the painted walkway approaching the helicopter.
The guy opened the doors and we all got in our respective places donned the seat belts and a pair of ear phones so that you could hear the pilot. He introduced himself and told us how the helicopter would take off and what it would feel like. The whirring of the blades increased and slowly the helicopter rose off the ground lurched forward and increased its speed rising up into the sky in a pre determined flight path. We flew over the South end of the strip and headed out towards the desert in the direction of the Grand Canyon 120 miles to the east of Las Vegas.
We passed right over the Hoover damn and observed the boats on lake Mead and the massive structure of the dam. Down below you could see the Colorado River spewing out at the base of the dam.
Passing over more dessert and undulating hills and rock formations and then we began to see sight of the Grand Canyon and the west rim. The helicopter flew over the edge of the rim and descended 4000 feet to the canyon floor beside a slow flowing river. Once we had landed we got down from the Helicopter and we were able to take lots of photos and to admire the peace and tranquillity of the Grand Canyon. It was amazingly quite there and not a sound could be heard. While we were checking out the sights the pilot had poured us all a glass of champagne which was really nice and cold. It was very noticeably much hotter there.
While we were admiring the views again the pilot set up a small lunch of sandwiches, crisps and cookies and much to our pleasure none of the others would drink their champagne so between the two of us we had a whole bottle between us. It seemed rude not to oblige! We then had a last look at the bottom of the canyon while the pilot collected all the leftovers from the Picnic lunch ensuring not a scrap of rubbish was left behind. We then got back into the helicopter for our return trip to Las Vegas.
The engines were started and the rotor blades started to turn getting faster and faster then finally we gently lifted off the ground and flew forward and then shot off gradually ascending the four thousand feet to the rim of the canyon. The helicopter appeared to be very close to the sides of the canyon and looked like it was going to smash right into some of the rocks that stood out but we safely got above the rim and headed towards a landing stage for refuelling.
While the helicopter was being refuelled we had the opportunity for some more photos and in all it took about 20 minutes.
The area that we visited is not part of the Grand Canyon National park but is owned by the Hualapai Indians and is part of the Hualapai Indian reservation. Each time the helicopters go out to the Grand Canyon they have to pay landing fees to the Indians and also part of their contract to land there is to buy their fuel from them. They had a couple of stalls selling ethnic Indian trinkets such as dream catchers, bracelets and necklaces. They also own the glass sky walk which you can walk over the edge of the Grand Canyon on a circular glass floored walkway which looks right down to the base of the canyon. It is miles from anywhere and takes quite some time to get out to see it.
Back on board the helicopter we headed off towards Las Vegas. We could see quite a few helicopters making their way either out to the canyon or back to Las Vegas not to mention the ones flying up and down the strip. They look like swarming bees buzzing round in the sky taking off every two or three minute. The helicopter appeared to be flying quite slowly but we were infact flying about 120km an hour and got back to Las Vegas in super fast time or so it seemed and was over so quickly.
I really enjoyed our trip out to the Grand Canyon and was worth every penny. It is something you would probably do once in a lifetime so it was well worth it and certainly a memorable way to remember the trip to another natural wonder of the world. The trip only lasted about 3 hours in total and yet I would have loved to have spent more time in the Canyon and longer time flying. ( There is no pleasing some people eh)! No in all seriousness it was a wonderful trip and We thoroughly enjoyed it. Whatever you do when you go out please try and do a trip it is one you wont regret.
We flew with Papillon Grand Canyon helicopter tours and their website can be found as follows:-
I would definitely recommend them as they have an excellent safety record to date. They do not just fly in Las Vegas they also fly in Hawaii. We also booked up a night flight with them over the Las Vegas strip and were given a discount for booking both flights.
Although it was expensive it worked out at about £176 for the trip to the Canyon they do offer discounts and special offers especially if you are booking different tours with them. I think that at the time we got the night flight for about £25 as we had already booked the canyon trip. Well worth it if you can afford it although it is a bit steep.
A helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon was one of the highlights of our road trip around California and Nevada, an absolutely unforgettable experience i'd recommend to anyone - there are few things i'd urge my friends to spend their last dollar on, but this is one of them.
~ Choosing and booking ~
As we were starting and ending our trip in Las Vegas, I decided to book the heli flight on our last day, as a way of dulling the pain of leaving! I did a fair bit of research about companies and prices, and found the situation to be quite confusing in terms of what exactly is included in the various packages, whether it's better to book in advance etc. In fact, there are only a handful of companies offering these trips, but you'd never know that from the internet - the same company may be offering packages under more than one name, or the same packages are resold by other operators - the latter may be something to avoid as it increases the chances of things not going to plan due to miscommunications.
In the end, these are the crucial factors in making a choice (other than cost!), which might be useful to anyone else considering a Grand Canyon flight:
1. Where does the actual flight depart from? Some operators use a coach to take you some or all of the way to the Canyon - which is several hours' drive from Vegas. Others use the airports at Boulder City or the main Las Vegas McCarran airport - this was the case with our Papillon package, which meant less time spent on the road and more time in the helicopter.
2. Where exactly does the flight go? I wanted the experience of flying into the canyon itself, which Papillon offered. When we travelled, only two operators were allowed to do this, because the Canyon is actually part of a reservation belonging to the indigenous American Indians, and they auction limited licenses at what one might imagine is a pretty substantial sum of money. Other operators offer flights over the canyon or around the rim.
3. What will you be in? Again depending on the operator, could be a small plane or various types of helicopter - those used by Papillon have large panoramic windows, another point in their favour for me.
4. Are there any other extras, optional or otherwise? We had a limo service to collect and drop us at our hotel, and were also able to add on a flight over the Vegas Strip at twilight, during the return leg.
I booked direct with Papillon's own website, as I preferred not to go through an intermediary, and their prices were about the best anyway. The booking process was simple, and I received a confirmation number and voucher plus confirmation of the pickup time, within a few minutes of booking.
~ On the day ~
Our flight was booked for around 6pm, which meant the limo would pick us up from the hotel about 90 minutes earlier. As the afternoon wore on, I went from excited to quite nervous - my partner is very afraid of heights, and I suffer from motion sickness, so I was thinking that maybe what we were about to embark upon had considerable scope for disaster!
The limo arrived pretty much on time, and so it began. Actually i think the limo collection was the only part of this trip i didn't totally love - a bit like London cabs, limos have that very bouncy suspension and as we picked up two other couples from their hotels, there were plenty of speed bumps to be got over. So the journey was actually quite uncomfortable, and longer than it needed to be - i'd recommend just getting a 5-minute cab direct to McCarran.
On arrival, we were given a short safety briefing about which i remember absolutely nothing, such were my nerves at that point! They also have a photographer there who takes a shot of you getting into the helicopter, which is printed and given to you as a complimentary gift on your return.
You have to give the weight of all passengers when booking, and this is used to determine where you sit on the flight, so as to ensure even distribution in the copter. There were six passenger seats in the helicopter, two in the front and four across the back, and my partner and I were assigned to the back row. This was fine as we only had four on board, but i have to admit to being a bit jealous of the slightly better views enjoyed by the couple in the front, and if we'd had a full house, the two middle seats in the back row definitely offer poorer visibility as there are people between you and any window. Finally, we were all given headsets which allow the pilot to communicate with us during the flight.
~ The flight itself ~
The moment of truth - taking off! I was crossing all my fingers by this stage that I wouldn't spoil things for everybody by getting sick, and the first few seconds were a bit dicey - the copter tilts forward when taking off, and the motion is weird. However, as soon as we were up and flying straight forwards, i had no problems whatever and any thoughts of motion sickness were blown away by the sheer thrill of the vertical ascent. My partner was fine too - I think the adrenaline rush just takes over. Being in a helicopter is like nothing else I've experienced, unlike the clumsiness of a plane where you can hardly believe it'll get off the ground, the copter is totally agile and the nearest thing i can imagine to being able to fly!
We flew out over Boulder and the Hoover dam, with fabulous views over the network of lakes in the area. The pilot gave a very interesting commentary about the history of the area, most of which i was too excited to take in very well. The scale of the Dam is really brought home to you by seeing it from the air. Then, we flew for around 30-40 minutes until our first glimpse of the Canyon itself. Truly breathtaking is the only way to describe it - in some ways it feels unreal, being somewhere that you've seen in so many pictures and TV documentaries since childhood. We dropped vertically down into the canyon itself, and then flew along within the canyon for quite a way before landing on a ledge maybe half way between the rim and the Colorado river.
We had maybe 15 minutes on the ledge, during which time the pilot tried to interest me in a picnic and some champagne. This is a nice thought but honestly, I'm in the middle of the Grand Canyon, you really expect me to take my eyes off it for long enough to eat an ordinary sandwich?! Not a chance. I was taking photos, and just trying to take it all in, until the very last second when we got back on board.
The flight back took a slightly different route, out over the Indian reservation where we could just spot various native animals. It was a fantastic way to see the landscape, and as we approached Las Vegas, really brought home to us just how the city is built in the absolute middle of nowhere. Finally, a flight up the central Strip, between the neon towers of all the hotels just as the lights were coming on, completed an unforgettable experience. As we landed at the airport, i was just sitting in the copter with a huge, stupid grin on my face, which lasted for the entire evening.
It's not often that you experience a day you know you'll remember until you die (especially not for positive reasons!), but this was definitely one of them. We paid about £150 per person, but the experience was truly priceless. Papillon's service was excellent, with our driver, the airport staff and the pilot all being very friendly and full of interesting information, and the trip itself was all i hoped for and more. I can't recommend them too highly.
I recently went on holiday to California and Nevada, which included a few days in Las Vegas. This gave me the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime wish and go to see the Grand Canyon. I'd seen that you could take helicopter flights out to the canyon, and decided that was the option for me.
Many of the helicopter tours on offer were extremely expensive (£350+ per person). Papillon were much cheaper - I think it worked out at around £180. After doing some research, they had some very mixed reviews but eventually I bit the bullet and took the risk.
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The tour I went for was the 'Sunset Grand Celebration'. The company pick you up from your hotel (or a nearby one) at around 4.30pm and take you to the airport at Boulder City - around 30-40mins away. Once you check-in, you watch a short safety video and then the helicopter pilots come out and call out the names of their passengers - I think 6 helicopter went out at the same time.
Each helicopter seats 7 people - the pilot and 2 passengers in the front (you can pay extra to guarantee front seats), and 4 in the back. You are assigned a seat and have to stick to it - it 's all to do with the weight of the load and balance. This could cause problems if you are stuck in the middle, as it's is obviously better to sit by the window to appreciate the great view and get good photos. It was OK for me, as I was by the window with my girlfriend next to me - she could lean over me (I wouldn't suggest doing this to a stranger!) and get a good view too.
The flight passes over several sights such as the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The pilot acts as tour guide throughout - giving details about the flight, history of the area, facts about sights etc. Eventually you come to the Grand Canyon itself - and what a breathtaking sight. You fly along the top to begin with, and then start to descend into the Canyon - eventually landing at the base. At this point the sun is starting to set and the red colour in the Canyon is really intensified.
Once you've landed, you can get out and have a wonder around and take everything in - you end up just staring aghast at the wonderful views! In the meantime, the pilots bring out a small picnic (sandwich, water/coke, fruit, crisps and a glass of cheap Champagne!) and in total you spend about 20-30mins at the base.
The flight back to Boulder City (via a quick re-fueling at the top of the Canyon) is a bit of a non-event for the Sunset tour, as by this time it's completely dark. On the daytime tours you'd obviously get great views again. Once you're back at the airport, it's back into the bus for your lift back to the hotel. Door-to-door was around 4 hours in total.
I'm glad I went for this company in the end - we essentially paid the same for two people as we would have for one person with most of the other companies. I have read some horror stories on Tripadvisor from other people (unexpected fuel surcharges, sitting next to obese people), but from my experience it was great.
Experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon from the skies. Papillon is the only Helicopter Company certified to fly both the South and West Rim of the Grand Canyon.