Spend some time with your head in the clouds! Come fly with us as we board a helicopter, hot air balloon and biplane to discover a new perspective of Red Rock Country. Think flying is for the birds? We have you covered: Check out our favorite spots to see Sedona from above while keeping your feet on the ground. Also, an airport history lesson and the lowdown on the airport’s Family Fun Day.
Arizona Helicopter Adventures
Flying in a helicopter is a sensation quite different from flying in a plane or a hot air balloon. There’s a level of finesse and agility we’ve never experienced in any other aircraft, which makes a helicopter tour ideal for exploring narrow red rock canyons and cliff dwellings. Arizona Helicopter Adventures has been operating out of the Sedona Airport for 26 years, and the tour outfitter offers a 25-minute Famous Ancient Ruins Tour – the company’s most popular of its three tours – that traverses Secret Mountain Wilderness.
We gently lifted off from the helipad in a JetRanger helicopter that seats four passengers plus one pilot. (At press time, the company was purchasing a doorless Hughes 500 aircraft, making future tours even more adventurous.) Everyone wears headphones and microphones, so you can hear your pilot and communicate with other passengers. We were quickly flying over the Cockscomb formation, Doe and Bear mountains, and the Palatki ruins. Our pilot, Rod Green, who has been flying helicopters for 19 years, deftly maneuvered into Loy Canyon. We’ve backpacked Loy Canyon, but we found it to be completely unrecognizable from the air. Not long after entering the canyon, we came upon our first ruin, nestled high in the sheer sandstone cliff face. The dwelling was built by the Sinagua people 800 to 900 years ago. From there we flew through Hartwell Canyon and then shot through the Gun Sight formation and into picture-perfect Boynton and Long canyons. Rod pointed out red rock formations we’d never heard of, including the Three Sisters and the Sentinel. We passed another series of cliff dwellings before smoothly returning to the airport.
The helicopters only fly about 300 to 500 feet above the ground in the canyons (they are required to fly at 1,000 feet or higher over town), and even flying in an aircraft with doors, we still were able to see the red rocks from a different perspective. “Helicopters can practically stand still, and we pass by the ruins slowly, so you get a great view,” says Joe Jones, the company’s safety officer. “We fly in places were there is no motor vehicle access. Even hikers have a hard time seeing what we see because the ruins are up so high.”
Joe says there are two types of people who book helicopter tours: those who just want the helicopter ride and those who want to see the red rocks from the air. The company flies just about every day of the year, sometimes going out as many as 23 times a day during the busy season. “This isn’t a thrill ride,” Joe says. “It’s smooth, which is good for photographers, especially when the doors are off.”
Arizona Helicopter Adventures
Rates: $119 per adult and $59.50 for children younger than 12 (children younger than 2 fly free) for the 25-minute Famous Ancient Ruins Tour.
Tips: Bring your cameras for this one! Someone from the company will take a photo of your party in front of the helicopter with your own camera prior to takeoff. While it’s hard to capture photos if you’re in the middle seat, at least one person in your party will be seated next to a window and able to snap some impressive red rock photos.