Best Places to Celebrate the Solar Eclipse

So we’re about two weeks away from the big event. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’m talking about the August 21 Solar Eclipse, aka the “Great American Eclipse.” You should know that four things make this a really big deal.

(1) It will be a total solar eclipse, which is rare.

(2)  This is the first total solar eclipse that will be visible in the continental U.S. since 1979. Most occur in remote areas or over water.

(3) It is the first to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in 99 years. It has a path of totality that includes fourteen states. In a nutshell, it will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. The eclipse will begin at 10:15 a.m. (Pacific Time) on the Oregon coast and end at 2:49 p.m. (Eastern Time) in McClellanville, South Carolina. Its path will include some cities in Oregon, a bit of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, a wee area of Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Depending on the location, darkness will last from a few seconds to nearly three minutes.

(4) Even those outside the path of totality will be treated to a partial solar eclipse whereby the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.

So where’s the best place to experience it?

See NASA’s eclipse page to learn more about this eclipse and special events, including Planetarium programs across the U.S. If you are in one of the areas where there will be a path of totality, you may want to host an outdoor eclipse party. But if you’re looking for the biggest and best eclipse parties:

  • Madras, Oregon will host “Solarfest” a music and camping celebration that is partly sponsored by NASA. More than 100,000 folks are expected to descend on Salem, the first city to witness the total eclipse. That is double the town’s population!
  • Wyoming expects hundreds of thousands of campers statewide with about 35,000 staying in and around Casper, which is at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Backwater Distillery will host a party with live music, food, and cocktails. Camping will be permitted in the fairgrounds and area churches. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming Stargazing is hosting two pre-eclipse mountain parties. The first one will include chairlift rides, telescope stargazing, a meet and greet with Astronaut Scott Altman, and presentations by leading astronomy experts. The second party will be on the day of the eclipse at Spring Creek Ranch. Guests will be treated to brunch and cocktails served in eclipse glasses, and special programs presented by astronomy experts.
  • Missouri’s ”Black Sheep in the Shadow—A Total Eclipse of the Farm” party will be an over-the-top adults-only celebration featuring “freakshow-style” performances, live music, a pig roast, and more in Weston. In Columbia, there will be a “Show Me Totality” party with a golf tournament, bike ride, concert, lots of food, and viewing parties at different locations. St. Joseph is expecting anywhere from 50,000 – 500,000 visitors over the weekend and on eclipse day. Rooms are still available in St. Louis since only parts of the metro area will see the total eclipse, so it may be a better bet for finding a room at a reasonable rate. Plus, it is only a twenty-minute drive to the total eclipse site.
  • Carbondale, Illinois will hold a big festival with lots of arts & crafts, an Eclipse Comic Con, and a team from Adler Planetarium to lead discussions and events, NACA will be streaming a live feed from here, and the public can go to Saluki Stadium where Matt Kaplan of Planetary Radio will host an eclipse event.
  • Nashville, Tennessee will be the largest city that will experience total darkness. They will feature the Music City Eclipse Science & Technology Fest at the Adventure Science Center, the Italian Lights Fest at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, and many around town viewing parties, including the Nashville Zoo. The city is expecting to host up to 75,000 visitors.
  • Columbia, South Carolina will be partying all weekend-long. The biggest celebration will be at the South Carolina State Museum with eclipse and astronomy activities and appearances. Tickets have been sold to visitors from twenty-three states and eight countries. There are more than 100 special events planned in and around Charleston, such as “Eclipse on a Warship” at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and “SunShadow Yoga” at Mount Pleasant Pier.

Finding lodging anywhere near the path of totality and these special events will be challenging. Most hotels are offering eclipse packages that are fun but expensive and largely sold out. Your best bet will be camping or finding lodging through Airbnb or similar sites, but Airbnb is reporting August 20 will be its busiest night in South Carolina. Many places will permit camping exclusively for this event in city parks, fairgrounds, churches, schools, and other areas not normally designated for this purpose. You should probably avoid southeastern Idaho, which is expecting up to 500,000 visitors for the eclipse. Most rooms are already reserved despite the high rate. It will be all but hopeless to find a place anywhere from Columbia to Charleston due to the one million visitors anticipated. The greater Charleston area reported 5-10% room availability as of August 7, so there are still some rooms to be had if you are willing to pay a premium price.

However, you can enjoy the celebration without leaving home. The Weather Channel will present special programming under the “The Total Solar Eclipse” moniker and will feature augmented reality. The network will cover the event with meteorologists broadcasting live from seven locations across the country, allowing viewers to see the eclipse in totality, no matter where they are located.

FYI: An eclipse occurs when the moon completely covers the sun, and the sun’s corona (an aura of plasma around the sun), which is usually hidden by the brightness of the sun, can be seen. To learn more visit NASA’s eclipse page

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