Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Grand Canyon Journeys: Helicopter Rides For Winter National Park Vacationers

By Kate Reingold

It's wintertime at Grand Canyon National Park. The temperatures have cooled down to the low 40s, there is occasional snow, and the air is crystal clear. The conditions are perfect for taking a helicopter tour over this amazing national landmark.

Departure Points

Chopper tours depart from two locations: Las Vegas, NV, and Grand Canyon National Park Airport, AZ. Flights that originate from Vegas go to the West Rim, while Arizona-based trips explore the South Rim. There are helicopter flights between the rims. Vegas travelers who want the South Rim are advised to take fly by airplane and then transfer to a helicopter.

Another thing to know is that the temperatures are colder at the South Rim. That's because the South Rim sits at an elevation of 6700 feet. The West Rim, on the other hand, has an elevation of only 4700 feet. Thus, from December to March, the South Rim's temps will range from 40 to 50 degrees during the day and 18 to 25 degrees at night. The West Rim has warmer daytime temperatures that reach into the 60s and 70s, but the nights are a little chilly with 40 degree temps.

During winter, there's a strong chance there will be snow on the ground. It's very rare that helicopter flights will be grounded due to snowfall as snowstorms move in and out of the National Park with rapidity. The West Rim is usually snow-free, but once in a blue moon it will get lightly dusted.

Tour Refunds

In the rare event your helicopter tour is canceled because of bad weather, your tour operator should give you a 100 percent refund of your money. I can't vouch for tour consolidators as in many cases you will be booking a flight that is stripped of a refund policy because it's in the hands of a liquidators trying to fill seats as they become available. So, to be safe, buy your tour directly from the tour operator and avoid sites like Priceline, HotWire, and Expedia.

What to wear during this season deserves consideration. Dressing in layers is the best way to go. Specifically, find a good base layer. This might be a t-shirt or a polyester shirt that wicks moisture and keeps you warm. You probably have tops like that already and won't need to buy anything new. Over that, I'd wear a sweater and then a Parka-like jacket. A pair of gloves, a scarf, long pants, wool socks and a pair of sturdy shoes are also suggested.

I especially recommend dressing for weather if you book a landing tour. These trips fly out exclusively from Las Vegas; South Rim helicopters are not allowed to fly below the rim and land. Landing options include going to the bottom of the canyon for a Champagne picnic, Colorado River boat rides and VIP Grand Canyon Skywalk tickets. These air-ground trips are very much in demand so make sure you book prior to arriving in Las Vegas.

Book Soon

How far in advance should you make your reservations? At least a week, especially during winter as helicopter tour operators limit the number of flights, which is compounded by the fact that helicopters can only hold six passengers to begin with. Further, and I mentioned this earlier in the article, book your flight direct from the operator on the Internet. The best deals are clearly on the Web, but, in order to make sure you get them, you must fully complete your transaction online (lots of people fail to do this and end up getting billed the retail rate!).

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