Exploring Grand Canyon West Rim by Air & Ground Tour from Las VegasSeptember 27, 2012
The Grand Canyon at the state of Arizona is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, so it’s clearly an experience not to be missed especially when you are in Las Vegas where lots of tour operators offer a myriad of options on the mode of transport to get there and what you can do at the Grand Canyon.
One of the most common option to get to the Grand Canyon from Vegas is by bus tours – however this is quite a painful option as the journey from Vegas to Grand Canyon West Rim takes about 2.5 hours each way! However this is the most affordable tour with prices starting at 99 USD. The typical drive to Grand Canyon would include stops at the lookout point over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. You will then travel through an ancient Joshua Tree forest to the West Rim, home of the Hualapai Indian Nation. This tour usually takes one-day long, starting early in the morning at around 5-6am (depending on your hotel’s location) til late in the evenings at about 7pm.
If you’re short on time and cannot stand long drives, consider an air or helicopter tour. We took a half-day air tour from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon West Rim where we were picked up for a ground tour of the West Rim. The West Rim’s highlights include views of the Colorado River at Guano Point, the Eagle Point Indian Village and the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk (a glass platform suspended beyond the canyon rim). The air tour took just about 6 hours door-to-door and we were back in Las Vegas in time for lunch at 12+ pm! For more information on the respective tours and prices, please scroll to the end of this post. We took this package to Grand Canyon West Rim -> Grand Canyon West Rim Air and Ground Day Trip from Las Vegas with Optional SkyWalk package from Viator for USD 264.99.
I will be sharing my experience with the above-mentioned tour: Grand Canyon West Rim by Air and Ground Tour from Las Vegas. We were picked up from our hotel at about 5am where we were then transferred to Henderson Executive Airport, just south of the Las Vegas Strip. The airport is a small one – hosting mainly private jets; no photos are allowed from the point you enter the hanger (where your paperwork e.g. tour documents will be processed) until you board the plane.
All in all, we had about 60 minutes of flight time and we flew over Boulder City, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and a number of beautiful landscapes. There was an audio guide available during our flight that explains what we are seeing below us. All passengers have window seats so it was a great experience for everyone to be able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
The fixed-wing plane landed at the Hualapai Indian Nation Airport on the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were then transferred to a hop-on hop-off coach tour, narrated by the driver/guide. The coach stops at both Eagle Point and Guano Point, where there were plenty of photo opportunities of the breathtaking scenic views.
How the hop-on hop-off coach tour concept works is quite simple, the coach goes around in a loop service: Hualapai Indian Nation Airport -> Eagle Point -> Guano Point -> Hualapai Indian Nation Airport.
It will drop you off at Eagle Point (the first destination for the tour of Grand Canyon) and you can take all the pictures you want, take out a walk at the fabulous Grand Canyon Skywalk (at a cost). The Skywalk is suspended 70 feet (21 meters) beyond the canyon rim and 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above the Colorado River. With its see-through glass floor and walls, it offers amazingly unobstructed views over the canyon. No cameras are allowed when you are on the SkyWalk but there will be photographers who will take your pictures and print them for you (of course at a cost!).
When you are ready to check out the next highlight of the West Rim Grand Canyon tour, hop on to the next bus that stops at Eagle Point and it will bring you to Guano Point (so named due to the mining of Guano a long time ago). At Guano Point, you will get a magnificent 360 degree view of the Grand Canyon (see the picture below). There are two little hills which you can climb and get to the top to get the best views of the Canyon – however note that there are no trails carved out for the trek to the top of the hill and at times, the path can get very narrow and rocky. There are no railings so stick close to the hill side and hold on to any branches you can find to guide you along.
There is an interesting history to why this place is called Guano Point – In 1958 the rights to a nearby bat cave were purchased by U.S. Guano Corporation. The company constructed a $3.5 million dollar tramway system to extract an expected yield of 100,000 tons of guano (bat droppings) from the cave below the rim. The guano extracted would have been processed and sold as fertilizer. Unfortunately the original site survey was incorrect and only about 1,000 tons of guano was extracted by the end of 1959. Shortly after the mine petered out, a US Air Force fighter jet collided with the overhead cable system, permanently disabling it. The remaining towers (see picture above) were left intact as a monument to man’s attempt to mine the canyon.
In total, you will have approximately 3.5 hours of free time at the West Rim, including a complimentary barbeque (BBQ) lunch at Guano Point, 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above the mighty Colorado River. During this 3.5 hours, there are number of activities you can do i.e. do what’s already included in your tour package at no additional costs: Visit Eagle Point, Guano Point and enjoy the BBQ lunch.
On top of the above activities, you can go on the SkyWalk at Eagle Point (at cost) or top up your package with a helicopter ride to the floor of the Grand Canyon. You will descend 4,000 feet (over 1200 meters) to the base of the Canyon where you will board a pontoon boat for an approximate 15-minute ride on the Colorado River. Seems quite packed for 3.5 hours but it is do-able and definitely a very interesting experience as you get to see Grand Canyon from different angles.
Regardless of your choice of activities, there will always be a BBQ Lunch cooked and provided by the Hualapai Indian Tribe at Guano Point. The food is served cafeteria style (they serve your portions) and not all you can eat (it is not a buffet). We had a choice of beef or chicken served with mash potato, salad, corn and some vegetables and a complimentary bottle of water. The food is not fantastic – definitely not of Guy Savoy standards but the view of the Grand Canyon while you are lunching beats any restaurants around the world! After lunch, we hopped on back to the coach to the Hualapai Indian Nation Airport where we hopped on to our plane back to Las Vegas for more partying and shopping!
Facts about Grand Canyon
You will notice in the tour agency brochures – there are tours to mostly either West Rim or South Rim. The South Rim is the wider and deeper part of the canyon. It is the more commercialized part of the Grand Canyon. Over 90% of Grand Canyon visitors travel to the South Rim and its Grand Canyon Village where amenities and lodging comforts are more amiable to family travel adventure. The South Rim is open year-round and offers over 2,000 hotel rooms and in addition to hotels, there are restaurants, museums, souvenir shopping and the convenience of park ranger services and programmes. The West Rim is just as beautiful, but far more rustic and undeveloped. This part of the canyon is also known as “Indian Country” due to the number of Indian Reservations that occupy the land. Either Rims, you still get great views of the Grand Canyon.
The temperature at the Grand Canyon is typically 5-10 degrees warmer than the temperature in Las Vegas. As you take the helicopter down to the bottom of the canyon, the rim of the canyon is usually about 15 degrees cooler.
You can visit the Grand Canyon at any time – there is no best time to travel to Grand Canyon because you just get to see the best of the Canyon in different ways. For practical reasons, if you are backpacking and hiking on the south rim, the best time of year to visit is early-autumn (late September through late November) and mid-spring (April and May). Summers on the south rim are warm and mild but summer in the inner canyon is brutally hot with temperatures well over 110 degrees F (43 C).
Winter comes to the south rim by early December and you can expect snow anytime through March. It typically does not snow very much, only a few inches (10 cm) at a time, and the snow usually gets a chance to melt between storms. Occasionally a bigger storm hits that will dump a foot (30 cm) or more of snow and that will stick around for a while and may close some of the roads in the area for up to a day. Seeing the Canyon with snow on the rim is an experience that only a small percentage of the total visitors get.
Viator Las Vegas-Grand Canyon Tours
We took up a package with Viator as the site offered variety in the selection of Grand Canyon tours – be it just a airplane tour of the Canyon or ground tour with SkyWalk and helicopter tour upgrades or just the typical bus tour – Viator serves as a one-stop for our research. Viator does not run these tours – these are run by independent tour operators but strictly QC-ed by Viator and you also have a one-stop contact for refunds and disputes with Viator.
We took this package to Grand Canyon West Rim -> Grand Canyon West Rim Air and Ground Day Trip from Las Vegas with Optional SkyWalk package from Viator for USD 264.99. Everything proceeded as planned and we got to see what we were promised so no qualms about this tour and I highly recommend it. It is also cheaper compared to similar tours offered by other operators – I think Vegas 500 offer the exact same tour for USD 294! (almost USD 80 more expensive). I am also assured of the quality from the hundreds of reviews on the Viator site.
If you don’t mind the long drive or would like to get up close with the Hoover Dam or have limited budget (but still want to see the Grand Canyon West Rim), you can consider taking this bus tour offered by Viator -> Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam Day Trip (by Bus) from Las Vegas with Optional SkyWalk package from Viator for USD 98.99. It is cheaper by about USD 100 and you get a 15-minute photo stop at Hoover Dam.
For tours to Grand Canyon South Rim, you can take this package -> Grand Canyon South Rim Air and Ground Tour from Viator for USD 289.99.
For flights to the States, you can consider CheapTickets.sg multi-stop trip functionality which effectively serve as a one-stop for us in planning our flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and internal flights to Las Vegas and finally from San Francisco back to Singapore. Please click on link for our USA West Coast trip itinerary.