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Banff Helicopter Tours in the Rockies

The Canadian Rockies — home to the breathtaking Banff and Jasper National Parks and the Icefield Parkway — offer many opportunities to explore and experience some of the world's most incredible natural wonders.

A tourist looks out the window during a helicopter tour in the Rockies

One thrilling way to discover the Rockies is by getting on a Banff helicopter tour, where you can get an unparalleled aerial view of the region's majestic landscapes.

History of Helicopter Tours in the Region

The origins of helicopter tours in Canada trace back to the development of heli-skiing in the 1960s, thanks to Hans Gmoser and Canadian geologist Art Patterson. 

Gmoser's vision made significant contributions to tourism promotion, with the founding of Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH). People began to understand how helicopters could provide unprecedented access to remote, appealing areas. 

Pioneering companies like Alpine Helicopters founded in Calgary in 1961, also contributed to the popularization of helicopter tours in the region. It expanded its operations into heli-skiing in 1981 when some mountain pilots from Bow Helicopters joined the company. The experienced team helped them secure a major contract to provide helicopter support for CMH, giving them a foothold in the industry. 

Alpine and other helicopter companies later expanded beyond skiing, combining adventure with sightseeing. This evolution of helicopter tours meant tourists and other adventurous souls could have breathtaking aerial views of major attraction sites including Banff National Park, and others in the region.

Why to Choose Helicopter Tours in the Rockies

As you plan to explore the Canadian Rockies, there are several reasons to opt for a Banff helicopter tour:

1. Aerial Perspectives

Helicopter tours in the Rockies give you the advantage of a bird's-eye view of the picturesque landscapes. This aerial perspective shows vast mountain ranges, pristine lakes, and dense forests in their entirety, helping you appreciate the region more.

2. Accessibility to Remote and Inaccessible Areas

These tours let you explore hidden valleys, secluded mountain tops, and other hidden gems that would otherwise be challenging to reach. The easy access to remote regions enhances your experiences in the Rockies.

3. Unique Photo Opportunities

Capturing unforgettable memories is an important part of any vacation. A Banff helicopter tour provides the perfect setting for photography lovers — giving you extraordinary views and rare angles that'll serve as cherished mementos of the Rockies.

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Types of Helicopter Tour Experiences

Enjoy a variety of experiences on your helicopter tour in the Canadian Rockies. From day trips and overnight adventures to private and shared group flights, each opportunity lets you explore the stunning Rockies in your own way.

    1. Day Trips and Overnight Adventures

    Helicopter tours in the Rockies have many day trip options if you want to experience the breathtaking landscapes in a short period. 

    It's an opportunity to visit iconic destinations, such as the towering Mount Assiniboine and the iconic Three Sisters Peaks. Explore the untouched beauty of pristine mountain meadows and even heli-hike in the Bugaboos for a change! If you want an overnight trip, fly-in lodges are available in stunning remote areas.

      2. Private Flights or Shared Group Tours

      Rockies helicopter tours cater to all, offering a choice between private flights and shared group tours. 

      If you're torn between the two options, here's some information to guide you on the advantages and disadvantages of each: 

      Private Flights: 

      • Personalization: Enjoy a trip that's completely tailored to your preferences. You get to plan your own itinerary and focus on spots that interest you the most. 
      • Flexibility: You have the freedom to spend as much time as you want at each location, and the overall schedule can be adjusted based on your desires. 
      • Privacy: If you're the type who prefers a peaceful journey without other distractions — or if you're traveling with family and want some solitude, a private flight is a perfect choice. 

      Shared Group Tours: 

      • Social Experience: On a shared group tour, you meet and interact with other travel enthusiasts. It's a fantastic opportunity to make new friends and share your travel experiences. 
      • Cost-Effective: The cost of the tour is split among the group, making it a more affordable way for you to experience a helicopter tour. 
      • Shared Excitement: The collective excitement in a shared group tour can boost your enjoyment. 

      Weather Conditions and Flight Routes

      Like many outdoor activities, weather conditions can sometimes affect Banff helicopter tours, influencing available flight routes. High wind speed, heavy rain, or poor visibility can affect your safety and sightseeing, making the tour less enjoyable or even impossible. 

      While the exact routes will depend on the tour operator, most helicopter tours in the Canadian Rockies encompass areas surrounding Banff National Park, Canmore, and the Columbia Icefield. For instance, a flight route might cover the Three Sisters Peaks in Canmore, Bow River, and picturesque alpine meadows. 

      Tour operators reserve the right to cancel flights to ensure passenger safety is always put first. Check the confirmed tours in the morning to ensure the weather conditions align with safety and visibility guidelines. 

      If a flight is cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, you may have the option to reschedule or get a refund. Check with your tour operator, however, for their precise cancellation and rescheduling policy so you can be prepared.

      Popular Tour Destinations in the Rockies

      While on your helicopter tour in the Canadian Rockies, three iconic destinations often top the list of must-see places: the Three Sisters, the Columbia Icefield, and Mount Assiniboine. 

      These sites offer unique views that let you experience the Rockies from a truly exceptional vantage point.

      1. Lake Louise

      One of the stellar destinations in the Canadian Rockies is Lake Louise, known for its charming beauty and tour experiences that never fail to enthral visitors. Victoria Glacier and Moraine Lake are top sights in the area. 

      A helicopter tour near Lake Louise gives you a stunning view of the pristine surroundings: 

      Get unparalleled perspectives of this region's sharp mountain peaks, frozen glaciers, and lush pine forests that change hues with the shifting seasons.

      2. Columbia Icefield

      Another awe-inspiring destination in the Rockies is the Columbia Icefield. It's among the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, stretching over the rocky expanse of Jasper National Park. The Icefield isn't just a feast for the eyes though, it's also as a critical water source for millions.  

      A helicopter tour near the Icefield gives you a grand view of its natural wonders that stretch out as far as the eye can see: 

      • Athabasca Glacier: The most visited glacier in North America 
      • Mount Bryce: The fifteenth-highest peak in British Columbia 
      • Cirrus Mountain: Known for the ‘weeping wall’ which is a cliff wall with many waterfalls 
      • Mount Columbia: The tallest mountain in Alberta  

      The experience with these pristine surroundings is further enhanced by exclusive tour options that take you closer to these ancient wonders for unparalleled views.  

      Helicopter flights can be combined with tours along the Icefields Parkway, which is known as one of the world’s most scenic drives. The parkway connects Jasper and Banff national parks and passes through breathtaking landscapes. Along the way, you can walk along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a cliff-edged glass-floored observation platform that provides a thrilling perspective of the Sunwapta Valley below.

      3. Alpine Meadows and Mount Assiniboine

      Mount Assiniboine, often called the "Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies," is an impressive sight in the Canadian Rockies region. 

      This colossal peak, with its pyramid shape and sheer beauty, shows the distinctive charm of its European counterpart. It's surrounded by splendid alpine meadows, radiant glaciers, and icefalls adorning the landscape. 

      The exhilarating flight carries you over these natural wonders, ensuring you have an up-close view of the raw beauty of Mount Assiniboine and the surrounding wilderness in all its glory.

      4. Pristine Lakes and Unparalleled Views

      The Canadian Rockies showcase an incredible assortment of pristine lakes and awe-inspiring views. The region's landscapes, which consist of mountain peaks, alpine meadows, glaciers, and crystal-clear lakes, continually captivate visitors. 

      The unparalleled views provide a memorable experience, letting you appreciate the region's natural beauty. 

      The most notable lakes you can't miss from your Banff helicopter tour are the vibrant Spray Lakes. The view from above is sure to take your breath away, leaving an unforgettable imprint on your senses.

      Tips for Capturing the Perfect Shots

      The breathtaking landscapes of the Canadian Rockies offer numerous photogenic views. Capturing these moments isn't always as straightforward as pressing a shutter button, though. 

      Here are some tips to help you secure the perfect shots while still enjoying the experience.

      1. Camera and Equipment Recommendations

      Choose the Right Camera: A DSLR or mirrorless camera typically provides the best photo quality due to its larger sensors and better dynamic range. If you prefer compactness, a good-quality point-and-shoot camera can also do the trick. 

      Lens Selection: A wide-angle lens (10-24mm) is ideal for capturing sweeping landscapes, while a telephoto lens (70-200mm) helps zoom in on distant subjects like mountain peaks or wildlife. 

      Pack Extra Accessories: Always remember to carry extra memory cards and batteries. A polarizing filter can also enhance your photos by reducing glare and deepening hues, especially in snow or water.

      2. Suggestions for Optimal Shooting Angles

      When it comes to framing your photos, variety is the key. Try different angles and perspectives to add depth to your shots. Here are a few suggestions: 

      Vertical Orientation: Vertical shots are often overlooked but can be quite effective in landscape photography, emphasizing height and creating more dynamic compositions. 

      Rule of Thirds: Place key points of interest along lines dividing your frame into thirds to achieve balanced photos. 

      Foreground Interest: Include elements in the foreground to add depth.

      Balancing Photography with Enjoying the Experience

      Remember, while photography is exciting, it's equally important to soak in the experience. 

      • Plan your Shots: Instead of clicking continuously, take a moment to compose your photos and then shoot. 
      • Learn to Be Present: There will be times when you should put down the camera and marvel at the scenery. Not every moment needs to be photographed. 
      • Enjoy the Journey: Enjoy the flight and scenery first, which will help you capture photos that speak to your experience. 

      Remember, the goal is not just to take good photos, but also to create memories on your helicopter tour in Banff that will last a lifetime.

      Preparations for a Helicopter Tour Experience

      Before your helicopter tour in Banff National Park, there are key steps you should follow to ensure everything goes smoothly. 

      First of all: 

      • Prioritize research to identify reputable helicopter tour companies 
      • Understand any restrictions or requirements before taking part in the tour 
      • These initial steps will ensure you have a safe and enjoyable flight.

      What to Bring on a Flight

      When preparing for a helicopter tour flight in Banff National Park, packing the right items is crucial. 

      The essential items include: 

      • Appropriate clothing for the current weather conditions 
      • Comfortable footwear for potential landing areas 
      • Protection for your eyes and skin against sun exposure, including sunglasses and sunscreen 
      • And of course, a camera to capture the unforgettable landscapes is a must. 
      • Don't forget to check the weather forecast before you fly so you can dress appropriately. 

      Safety Briefings Before Takeoff

      Safety briefings are an integral part of the Banff helicopter tour experience. And in places like Banff National Park where the landscapes are as challenging as they are beautiful, they help passengers handle unexpected situations during the tour. 

      The critical components usually covered in a comprehensive safety briefing include: 

      Pre-flight Checks: Understanding the operation of the helicopter's controls and functions. 

      Emergency Procedures: Handling unexpected situations, such as sudden weather changes or mechanical issues, and following the appropriate response. 

      Safe Use of Equipment: Proper use of safety equipment such as seat belts, life jackets, and emergency exit operations. 

      Safety Protocols and Rules

      Passengers also play a role in maintaining safety during a helicopter tour. Some general safety rules to follow during the flight include: 

      • Adhere strictly to seat belt use, keeping it fastened at all times during the flight. 
      • Refrain from moving around inside the helicopter unless instructed by the crew. 
      • Pay attention to photography rules to ensure the safe operation of cameras and mobile devices. 

      The Role of a Pilot

      The pilot is indispensable to ensuring a safe and enjoyable flight experience. They are responsible for: 

      • Navigating the helicopter safely based on their knowledge and expertise of the terrain and weather conditions. 
      • Making critical decisions in response to unexpected situations. 
      • Guiding passengers and answering any queries related to the flight. 

      Remember, safety is a shared responsibility on helicopter tours in Banff. While crew members play a guiding role, following the rules as passengers is equally important.

      Local Experts as Guides

      Exploring the magnificence of the Canadian Rockies through a helicopter tour can become even more enriching with local experts as guides. These professionals offer key benefits: 

      • Knowledge of the Area: Guides have in-depth knowledge of the area's history, wildlife, and famous sights. 
      • Authentic Insights: They share engaging anecdotes, facts, and local stories, enhancing your understanding of the area. 
      • Maximized Experience: Guides can help you connect more deeply with the sights, improving your overall flight experience. 
      • Support for Local Community: Going on a guided tour supports the local community. 

      Investing in a local expert as your knowledgeable guide for Banff helicopter tours adds a remarkable edge to your adventure as you dive deeper into the region's history.

      The Best Time to Take a Helicopter Tour in Banff

      When choosing an excellent time for a helicopter tour near Banff, you need to consider various factors:

      Seasonal Considerations

      Depending on the season, different aspects of Banff's diverse landscape come to life. For a more detailed outlook: 

      • Spring and Summer: These seasons offer lush green landscapes with icy turquoise lakes in view, painting a vibrant canvas of Banff from the sky. 
      • Autumn: Autumn portrays a brilliant palette of fall colors, transforming the landscape into a spectacle of warm hues. 
      • Winter: Winter reveals enchanting snowy landscapes, with a stunning view of snow-covered mountain peaks and frozen lakes. 

      Weather Factors

      Weather conditions play a major role in determining visibility and the overall quality of your flight. It's therefore essential to check for weather updates when planning your Banff helicopter tour.

      #1 Travel Tip: Winter bubbles tour

      Quote IconQuote Icon

      Winter is a magical time for a helicopter tour in the Canadian Rockies. You can fly over the frozen landscape, see bubbles trapped under the ice at Abraham Lake, and snowshoe through the wilderness.

      Blog Author - Hannah Poaros-Mcdermott
      Hannah Poaros-McDermott
      Travel Writer and Senior Content Coordinator

      Special Events and Occasions

      Take advantage of Banff helicopter tours to celebrate special events and occasions such as: 

      • Private Helicopter Sightseeing: These flights offer an intimate, personalized touch to the experience, ideal for romantic events and special occasions. 
      • Explore the Rockies Heli Hikes: Combine the thrill of a scenic helicopter flight with a guided hike to explore the Rockies on foot and from above. There are several fly-in lodges that you can stay at if you want to enjoy a multi-day heli-hiking experience. 
      • Icefields Helicopter Tours: Witness the Canadian Rockies as they were meant to be seen — from a bird's eye view, taking in views of glaciers, ice falls, and alpine lakes. 

      Every season and event offers something unique for your helicopter tour, promising a remarkable experience throughout the year. Be sure to select a time and package that best aligns with your desires for the tour. 

      Costs and Booking Information

      Helicopter tours in Banff offer a range of pricing options depending on the tour company, period, the season, and the number of passengers. Some helicopters depart from Canmore or from a base along the Icefields Parkway.

      Make sure to book your flight in advance to secure a spot and take advantage of deals on Banff helicopter tour prices. Helicopter experiences can be included in some of our Rockies train trips.

      Post-Tour Reflections

      The value of a helicopter tour over the Canadian Rockies can be assessed in the stunning landscape views and thrilling experiences you gain during the flight. 

      After the trip, spend time reminiscing on the highlights — whether it's the initial takeoff, enchanting wildlife sightings, close-up views of towering mountain peaks, or aerial views of the town that you could share with friends and loved ones. 

      Do leave a helpful review for the tour company as your feedback can guide future explorers and help the company improve. 

      A Banff helicopter tour leaves you with an experience of a lifetime and the cost is often justified by the unique, breathtaking perspective it gives you. 

      The lasting impression goes beyond just beautiful photos. It encourages a deeper appreciation of nature and emphasizes the importance of preservation.

      Rockies From the Sky

      Banff helicopter tours provide unrivaled access to the Canadian Rockies' landscapes, showcasing spectacular mountain peaks, shimmering lakes, and lush forests. The unique perspectives gained from such aerial excursions create amazing memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. 

      If you're planning your next trip to Canada, Canadian Train Vacations is your reliable partner. As local experts, we assist you with everything from booking accommodations to organizing unique experiences like Rockies helicopter tours.

      #2 Travel Tip: Fly-in lodge experience

      Quote IconQuote Icon

      Fly to Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos, or Cariboo Lodge during the summer and enjoy a multi-day heli-hiking adventure. Each day, take a helicopter flight into the mountains to explore the landscape at your own pace.

      Katherine Foxcroft
      Product Manager, Tours and Vacations

      Frequently Asked Questions

      Are helicopter tours worth it?

      Yes, helicopter tours offer unparalleled views of the landscape, making them well worth it if you want to create lasting memories during your trip.

      Where do you fly into for Banff?

      The closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport (YYC), approximately a 1.5-hour drive away.

      How much is a helicopter ride in Alberta?

      Helicopter tours in Alberta can range from around $250 per person for a 20-minute flight to over $450 for longer, more scenic tours. Prices may vary depending on the tour company, season, and specific packages.

      About the author: Hannah Poaros-McDermott is the Senior Content Coordinator at Fresh Tracks Canada. She has previously written for and shared her local knowledge in Where Vancouver, Where Whistler, and Essential Vancouver magazines. Originally from the UK, Hannah travelled... Read more

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