Total eclipse from the car
America is about to witness its first solar eclipse in 38 years. On August 21, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun to cast its shadow on the planet for a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle in the sky. Temperatures will drop and daylight will be mystically filtered for a few moments of striking darkness as the sun creates a wondrous aura around the moon. Although most of the continent will experience at least a partial eclipse, the phenomenon will only be completely witnessed from a few places spanning thousands of miles in just minutes. This “path of totality” stretches from Oregon to South Carolina and is only about 100 miles wide.
Inspired to be an eclipse chaser and travel to one of the prime viewing locations? Many of the locales along the path of totality are geared up for their moment under the sun — or rather the lack thereof — with elaborate viewing parties and festivals. The bad news, however, is that most lodging and campsites have been completely booked up for years. The good news is that you still have some time to book a car and hit the road to one of the many viewing sites and events for The Great American Eclipse.
Madras, Oregon (10:19 am)
Located in central Oregon’s high desert, Madras sits in the center of the path of totality to offer viewers a full two minutes four seconds of darkness. The eclipse has become such a big event that a campground and festival surrounding the eclipse have been set up. If camping or festivals aren’t your thing, there are also a number of daytripper spots available at a fraction of the cost. Madras is usually just a two-and-a-half hour drive from Portland Airport but heavy traffic is expected so your best bet is to arrive early. Alternatively, the nearby Willamette Valley (a.k.a. “Oregon Wine Country”) is a short drive South of Portland and has a number of more low key events.
Casper, Wyoming (11:42 am)
While many will be flocking to the scenic Jackson Hole area, home to Wyoming’s largest airport, the state’s second largest city of Casper sits directly along the line of totality and is only a 4-hour drive north from Denver International Airport. Geek out with other astronomers at Astrocon, let loose at the Wyoming Eclipse Festival, or head out to one of the many public viewing locations around town for two minutes and 26 seconds of sheer awe.
Nebraska sandhills (11:49 am)
Among the sandhills of north-central Nebraska, over 250 miles along Interstate 80 follow the path of totality from about highway marker 152 just past the town of Paxton on the way to Lincoln. There are plenty of viewing sites along this stretch but just a few miles north, in the town Alliance, is the unique Carhenge roadside attraction. While admission is free, the small parking lot at Carhenge will be closed for official use the day before and the day of the eclipse so you’ll want to check out other nearby locations and festivities. These locales are all about a four-hour drive from Denver International Airport in normal traffic conditions.
St. Joseph, Missouri (1:06 pm)
An hour north of Kansas City in the Show Me State, the small town of St. Joseph is slated to have one of the longest eclipse times at 2 minutes and 39 seconds. The local Rosecrans Memorial Airport will host what is expected to be the largest free event for the eclipse. The event actually started as a small “eclipse bar-b-que” organized by a Senior Editor at “Astronomy” magazine when, in 1996, he discovered the path of totality would pass through his wife’s hometown of St. Joseph.
Carbondale, Illinois (1:20 pm)
Carbondale is anticipated to have the longest lasting solar eclipse with sun completely covered for approximately two minutes and 40 seconds. The town is also a perfect spot to turn memories into a tradition since it’s slated to be along the path of totality again in 2024. Located just over a two-hour drive from the St. Louis Lambert International Airport, the small college town that is home to Southern Illinois University is expected to see an influx of nearly 100,000 visitors. Many visitors will pack SIU’s Saluki Stadium for the event that includes special performances and educational programming. Tickets to the event haven’t sold out yet and cost just $25. Alternatively, the nearby Blue Sky Vineyard will be offering a free event on a first come, first served basis complete with wine tasting and a sangria station.
Hopkinsville, KY (1:24 pm)
Just 12 miles northwest of the small town of Hopkinsville will be the site of the Greatest Eclipse, where the moon’s shadow passes closest to the center of Earth. At two minutes and 41 seconds it will also have the longest duration of totality. For the bargain price of just $25, you can secure parking and five individual day passes to the Kentucky Bourbon Mashoree celebration at the MB Roland Distillery. The small-town, Southern hospitality of Hopkinsville is less than two hours from Nashville International Airport.
Nashville, Tennessee (1:27 pm)
There will certainly be no shortage of festivities in Music City, U.S.A. surrounding the one minute and 57 seconds of totality. Among a plethora of events all over the city, perhaps the most popular spot will be a festival at the Adventure Science Center all weekend long. Tickets to the festival are still available and start at $49 per day for adults. However, all of the outdoor festival activities are open to the public, completely free of charge.
Columbia, South Carolina (2:43 pm)
Hosting more than 100 events for two minutes and 35 seconds of darkness, the Total Eclipse Weekend in Columbia has been dubbed the “total solar eclipse capital of the East coast”. From packed stadiums to smaller soirees open to the public, the city offers a little something for everyone. Offering completely unobstructed views of the eclipse, the S.C. State Fairgrounds will host a tailgate party with free admission and just $5 for parking.
Eclipse chaser pro tips
- If you rent a car from Turo, remember to check the included mileage by your car’s host. You can even filter your search on Turo to find a car best suited for the distance of your trip.
- Plan ahead and anticipate heavy traffic. Apps like Waze will help you navigate the best routes.
- Since most lodging will be booked up, consider camping it. Hipcamp still has moderately priced campsites in most of these destinations.
- Protect your eyes! Many events will offer special eclipse glasses that you can also buy on Amazon but welders goggles are a good DIY fix too.
- Live in the moment — the eclipse will only last for a matter of minutes, memories last forever!