Despite the fact that total solar eclipses are rare and weird and awesome, they also can be sort of a “seen one, seen ’em all” phenomenon. So if you’ve been lucky enough to catch an eclipse before, maybe you’re not so keen on booking a flight to a small town in middle America that’s about to see more visitors than, well, ever on August 21. But if you’re like me—an eclipse noob—this whole rare celestial event deal might just be worth a 3- or 4-hour drive, especially if it involves a night sleeping under the stars.
In case you missed it, the upcoming solar eclipse is a big deal. A total solar eclipse hasn’t been visible in the contiguous United States since 1979, and unlike more common lunar eclipses, it will happen smack in the middle of the day on August 21. The areas that will see the full 2-minute eclipse lie in a gentle arc, dubbed the “path of totality,” from Oregon’s Lincoln Beach, where the eclipse will begin at 9:05 p.m. PST, to Charleston, South Carolina, which will see totality around 2:48 p.m. EDT. You’ll catch a partial view of the eclipse elsewhere in the states—Seattle will see it at a magnitude of 0.9, New York City will see it somewhere around 0.8, LA is looking at 0.7.
Businesses throughout the path of totality—which you can see in detail on NASA’s website—have planned events ranging from a yoga and sparkling wine-tasting eclipse party at an Oregon winery to a 7-day guided rafting trip on Idaho’s White Salmon River with a guest astronomer. Rates in small-town hotels soared to as high as eighteen times their standard rate before they sold out entirely. People are already stressing out about where they’re going to use the bathroom when hordes of smartphone-wielding Americans come out for the big show. So unless you booked your motel room months ago (and have a lot of patience for crowds), take our advice: pack up your car, cut out your pinhole projector, and find a nice spot to camp. Here are a few ideas.
If You’re in the Pacific Northwest…
The path of totality cuts a 70-mile swath across North America, so rather than opting for, say, a KOA in Lincoln Beach (the NASA-designated point at which the eclipse will begin), try car-camping 20 miles south, at the popular Beverly Beach State Park, or 30 miles south in Newport’s South Beach State Park. Just outside the path, Cape Lookout and Alder Dune Campground are great options that will provide a near-total view—or a short morning drive to a beach from which to watch the drama unfold. Oregon coast campgrounds—particularly those with RV hookups—do tend to fill up early (even without a solar eclipse), so consider making a reservation.
The eclipse will cross over a large portion of the Willamette National Forest, including the 10,495-foot stratovolcano Mt. Jefferson. Summit eclipse party, anyone? Camping in national forests is typically free except in some high-use areas and established campgrounds (though you’ll usually need at least a parking permit), so your options—from overnight hiking trips to roadside camping—are ample. The Ochoco, Umatilla, and Malheur national forests (the site of the largest living organism in the world) are all in the path of totality as well.
Passing through Idaho and Wyoming
The eclipse must’ve seen my road trip plans, because it’s following a pretty incredible path through Idaho and Wyoming. First passing through the Sawtooths, it barely misses Boise and encompasses Stanley and Sun Valley, as well as large portions of the Salmon-Challis, Boise, and Sawtooth national forests. There are literally hundreds of possible itineraries in these mountains, but a quick overnight to Sawtooth Lake or Alice Lake will put you in the sweet spot.
In Wyoming, the eclipse encompasses the Grand Teton and Wyoming’s tallest peak, Gannett. The majority of the Gros Ventre Wilderness and the Bridger-Teton National Forest will serve up an excellent view. Jackson Hole is in the sweet spot, as is the entirety of the Wind River Range. Though treks deep into the Winds aren’t for the faint of heart—the approach to Gannett, for example, is around 20 miles—these mountains, with their high plateaus and massive glaciers, are well worth the trip even sans eclipse.
East to Nebraska and Beyond
Public lands and jaw-dropping mountain ranges thin out past Wyoming, but you can find dispersed camping in the northwest corner of Nebraska in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. The eclipse arcs through Missouri’s southeast corner, where the Shawnee National Forest and the northern reaches of the Mark Twain National Forest offer dispersed camping, picturesque brooks and swimming holes, and lush, low-lying deciduous forests. Further south, the charming North Carolina mountain town of Asheville lies just outside the path, and offers access to the Nantahala National Forest, which lies squarely in firing range of the total eclipse. If you’re lucky enough to have a place to stay on the coast of South Carolina, the eclipse will leave North America over Charleston. Camping at Edisto Beach and Huntington Beach State Parks will put you just a few miles out of range, but that’s nothing a short morning drive can’t fix.
You can also check out Hipcamp for camp-able private property listed Airbnb style in addition to an easily searchable database of public and established campsites in states and national parks. From glamping in Oregon to pitching a tent on a ranch in North Carolina or a farm in South Carolina, your options are ample. New sites have been popping up in anticipation of the eclipse, and the folks at HQ put together a handy eclipse-specific map to make planning even easier.
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