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Editor Dan Miller

Total Solar Eclipse 2017: Plan Ahead for the Best View

Posted by Dan Miller on August 22, 2016
boy watches a solar eclipse through a pair of special glasses, picture
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Photo: supot phanna / Shutterstock.com
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The last time the continental U.S. got a total eclipse, Jimmy Carter was president; the next one will be in 2045.

A year from now—August 21, 2017, to be precise—a total solar eclipse will darken a narrow band of the United States, from the Oregon coast to Charleston, South Carolina. Astronomy buffs from all over the world will be flocking to communities along the eclipse's path to witness this rare event. 

But if you were thinking of joining them, you may want book your travel plans now. That's because towns along the western half of that path are already reporting that their hotels are fully booked.

In case you've forgotten your astronomy, a total eclipse occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking the latter and casting a dark shadow on the earth's surface. That shadow isn't big: For the 2017 eclipse, the region of "totality"—where the sun is completely blocked—will be only about 70 miles wide. As Earth rotates, that shadow will travel across its surface from west to east. 

How to See the Eclipse

The August 21 eclipse will make landfall just north of Newport, Oregon, at about 10:15 a.m. It will then travel into the Willamette Valley, darkening Corvallis, Albany, Salem, and environs. It'll cross the Cascades, covering the towns of Madras, Mitchell, and Prairie City. In Idaho, it will go over Stanley and Rexburg; Idaho Falls will be on the southern edge of its path. Jackson and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming could provide especially spectacular viewing. The eclipse will proceed southeast from there, hitting Dubois, Riverton, and Casper before heading off into Nebraska.

To see the eclipse, you'll need only to be in the right place at the right time. The "right place" means not only being in the eclipse's shadow, but also being somewhere that isn't too cloudy. According to the Eclipsophile site, that means avoiding the Oregon coast and heading east of the Cascades.

Zoom into the map above for a more detailed look at the path of the eclipse. (For even more specifics, check out the maps at Eclipse2017.org.)

Where to Stay

That forecast is one reason why hotels in the little city of Madras, Oregon—just east of the Cascades and only a couple of hours' drive from Portland—are reportedly sold out already. The city is expecting to host 25,000 astronomy fans, and plans are apparently afoot to open up parking lots in the city to RVs. Small towns in Eastern Oregon are apparently sold out, too. The Astronomical League—a consortium of amateur astronomy clubs from all over the U.S.—is holding its annual Astrocon conference in Casper, Wyoming, to coincide with the eclipse; the hotel it had booked is already full, and it's now seeking other accommodations there.

So what can you do if you want to see the eclipse but don't have a room booked yet?

  • Check the map of the eclipse's path, identify an area where you'd be willing to travel, then call around to some of the smaller towns there to see if they have any rooms to spare.
  • If you're willing to drive a bit the day of the event, you could book a room somewhere outside the path of totality—in Portland or Boise, say—and then drive to a viewing spot that day.
  • Consider camping. Reservations for sites in public campgrounds often open up only a few months in advance, so they shouldn't yet be booked.

How to Protect Your Eyes

However you manage to get there, be sure to bring proper eye protection: As the Total Solar Eclipse 2017 website warns, "The only safe time to look at an eclipse with the naked eye is during the total phase of a total eclipse. And even then, you must always use eye protection any time any piece of the sun's bright disk is visible." A quick Web search will turn up plenty of online merchants willing to sell you the appropriate goggles.