Sunday marks exactly one year before what will be the easiest total solar eclipse ever to travel to and witness. And if you’ve never seen one before, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Legions of eclipse-chasers from across the country and the world will be in the United States for the Aug. 21, 2017 event. A New Moon will completely block out the Sun for a few minutes, throwing a 70-mile Moon-shadow across the states from Oregon to South Carolina.
Stand anywhere under that shadow and you get to glimpse totality, when everything goes pitch black and—if there are clear skies—you can see a “hole in the sky.”
Around the Moon, the Sun’s mesmerizing corona is visible, creating what looks like ice-white ribbons billowing in the wind. You can usually see arches of red light—super-heated plasma that are about the size of Earth—twisting from the surface. It’s hypnotizing, especially through any cheap binoculars.
Totality will make you shiver, it will make you cry, and it will make you beg for more. That’s why you need to book your trip now, because the millions of ecliptomaniacs are coming to book all the hotels, rent all the vehicles, and eat all of the hot dogs. You need to make a plan.
The whole of the United States will see a partial eclipse—which you’ll need solar safety glasses to look at—but only those in the eclipse track will also see Totality. Two minutes 41 seconds of Totality is the maximum you can get on Aug. 21, 2017, and the closer you are to the Line of Totality—the center of the eclipse track—the more Totality you will see.
When it comes to picking a location, clear skies should be on the top of your eclipse list,so consult weather predictions as well as driving maps. But this is August, so it’s time for a vacation that crosses the path of the eclipse on the big day.
Here are 10 ideas for road trips, vacations, and observation locations—some epic, others easy to get to. If you get organized soon, the Great American Eclipse is within your grasp.
1. Get your eclipse on Route 66
If you ever planned to motor west, a couple days before the eclipse would be a good time to go. A legendary journey of 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles made famous in Bobby Troupe’s song, it officially starts at the ‘begin’ sign on Adams St. in Chicago and finishes on Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles.
On eclipse day drive 52 miles southwest of St. Louis—the city is right on the northern limit of the eclipse track—to St. Clair, where Route 66 and the Line of Totality intersect on what’s now called Interstate 44.
Totality in St. Clair, Missouri, is on Aug. 21, 2017 at 1:15p.m. CDT for 2 minutes 42 seconds.
2. Watch the weird light on Oregon’s Painted Hills
In the last few minutes before Totality, shadows sharpen and the light dives dramatically to a crisp, almost silvery hue. What if there was a section of multi-colored badlands under the track of the total solar eclipse that might capture and reflect back that eery light show, with clear skies almost guaranteed?
Luckily there is.
The Painted Hills north of Mitchell famously glow at sunrise and sunset, so this fossil-strewn area in the heart of eastern Oregon’s desert will be a favored spot for photographers. Dedicated workshops being held in the area by Jeff Berkes and Peter Bohringer on eclipse day.
Totality at Mitchell, Oregon, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 10:20a.m. PDT for 2 minutes 5 seconds.
3. Share a closeup with a crowd in St. Joseph, Missouri
Eclipses are best experienced with others, and if there are a few astronomers to explain what’s going on, all the better.
A free public observing event is being planned for Rosecrans Memorial Airport, St. Joseph, Missouri, which is about 45 miles north of Kansas City on Interstate 29.
Expect lectures from astronomers, the chance to look at the partial eclipse through a solar-scope, and a post-eclipse astronomy-themed concert by the St. Joseph Symphony Orchestra.
Totality at St Joseph, Missouri, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 1:06p.m. CDT for 2 minutes 39 seconds.
4. Take the Empire Builder to Salem, Oregon
You can even take public transport to the eclipse. The Empire Builder is one of Amtrak’s greatest trips, running from Chicago all the way to Portland, Oregon, via views of the Mississippi, Minneapolis, the North Dakota Plains and Glacier National Park in Montana before the track forks at Spokane.
Here the service splits and travels to either Seattle or—for eclipse-chasers—into Portland’s Union Station. Portland is just beyond the fringes of the eclipse track, but the Amtrak Cascades service runs south to Salem under the shadow in just 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Totality at Salem, Oregon, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 10:17a.m. PDT for 1 minute 54 seconds.
5. Get an eclipse soundtrack in Music City
No, not “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” There are precious few big cities firmly in the eclipse track, but Nashville gets almost two minutes of Totality, making it the ideal fly-in, fly-out experience.
There should be plenty of songs penned and performed about the Great American Eclipse, though perhaps one of the city parks is the best place to view the actual event. Will an enterprising performer in Nashville, er, eclipse Faroese doom metal band Hamferð by turning their backs on the once-in-a-lifetime (OK, twice) event to film a live music video while their “Ain’t No Sunshine” in Nashville? Let’s hope not.
Totality in Nashville, Tennessee, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 1:28p.m. CDT for 1 minute 57 seconds.
6. Watch the Moon-shadow swallow the Smokies
If you’re prepared to sacrifice a minute or so of Totality, you could watch the spectacle from one of the world’s coolest observation decks.
Built in 1959 by Bebb and Olson, the circular concrete Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a 180-degree panorama so ought to offer a spectacular view as the Moon-shadow envelopes the forest. However, as well as a short Totality, the smaller chances of clear skies at Clingman’s Dome could make this a nervy option.
Totality at Clingman’s Dome on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 2:35p.m. EDT for 1 minute 20 seconds.
7. Go on a pre-eclipse stargazing road-trip
Since you’re planning an eclipse a year ahead, why not also factor-in an evening or two watching shooting stars?
The Perseid meteor shower will rain down 50-100 shooting stars per hour from Aug. 12-13, 2017, which is also the best time of year to see the Milky Way. This is a great chance to explore the great national parks of Utah, many of which have been designated gold-tier International Dark Sky Parks (top spots include Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point and Arches) before heading north to catch the eclipse at the closest possible point.
Three hours drive north of Salt Lake City on Interstate 15—and under the Moon’s shadow—is Idaho Falls, which has among the best weather prospects along the entire eclipse path.
Totality at Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 11:32a.m. MDT for 1 minute 49 seconds.
8. Spend your black sky time with Blue Sky wine
Union County, Illinois, has a special boast on eclipse day, officially containing the point of greatest duration of eclipse. The exact point is in the Giant City State Park close to both the Blue Sky Vineyard and Rocky Comfort Cabins, but before you start to think about booking a Hobbit-style cabin or a suite, get real; there’s an auction on for those.
However, both properties are planning an eclipse festival that will include Class A Camper parking, food, music and maybe even a special-label wine release.
Totality at Union County, Illinois, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 1:20p.m. CDT for 2 minutes 41.6 seconds.
9. Complete the first part of a crossroads eclipse
Two Total Solar Eclipses in the same place in one lifetime is unlikely, but two in seven years? A celestial fluke is on the cards for the folk of Carbondale, Illinois, who will see an eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, then again on April 8, 2024.
Instead of northwest-southeast, the 2024 eclipse will go northeast-southwest, which means the paths must cross. Carbondale is marketing itself as the “Crossroads of the Eclipses”, with Southern Illinois University planning a public viewing at a football stadium.
Eclipse geeks will get to the eastern shoreline of nearby Cedar Lake, where the two Lines of Totality precisely cross.
Totality in Carbondale, Illinois, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 1:20p.m. CDT for 2 minutes 40 seconds.
10. Take the Atlantic Route for an eastern eclipse
Eclipse-chasers are known for their pro-NASA leanings. Cue an epic space-fest road trip. As you drive for two or three weeks up or down the coast between New York City and Florida you can call in at Manhattan’s Hayden Planetarium, the National Air and Space Museum’s fabulous Apollo To The Moon exhibition in Washington D.C., Hampton’s Virginia Air & Space Center and, of course, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Intersect the eclipse track inland at Columbia, South Carolina, which has more chance of clear skies—and more Totality—than coastal Charleston, and is organizing events. If you’re short on time, Columbia is an easy place to fly to, but it’s going to be popular.
Totality in Columbia, South Carolina, on Aug. 21, 2017 is at 2:46p.m. EDT, for 1 minute 32 seconds.
Get more ideas for road trips and great places to watch the celestial spectacle in “USA Eclipse 2017 Travel Guide”.
Jamie Carter is a travel journalist, eclipse-chaser and author of the “USA Eclipse 2017 Travel Guide” and “A Stargazing Program for Beginners.”