En español | On Aug. 21 the universe will go exquisitely awry along a 70-mile-wide band across the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 

Daylight will darken eerily. Temperatures will drop. And the moment the sun, moon and Earth line up, the sun will instantly become a black disk in the sky, encircled by the mystical solar corona. The last one visible in the continental U.S. was in 1979, and we won’t see another until April 8, 2024.

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This is the magic of “totality” — a total eclipse of the sun by the moon. It’s well worth a trip to see this rare event, and millions are expected to travel to communities along its path. This year that path begins in Salem and Corvallis, Ore., then curves across the country, visible in towns such as Casper, Wyo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn., and finally Charleston, S.C., on the East Coast. Oregon and South Carolina each expect a million eclipse-chasers. Wyoming is “preparing for a massive influx” of visitors. The population of Nashville may double.

Those in the know have already made their plans, so accommodations may be a little tricky to find, but it’s certainly not too late. Be persistent: Call or email hotels and campgrounds directly to check for cancellations, investigate rentals through sites like Airbnb.com and HomeAway.com, and be flexible about location. You'll find that your options expand the farther you stay from your chosen viewing site. Wyoming’s tourism office says “plenty of lodging” is available outside the path of totality.

Path of Solar Eclipse

The path of the total solar eclipse across the U.S. on Aug. 21

NASA

Some viewers may become lifelong eclipsophiles (as I am and documented in a separate article). “Watching a total solar eclipse is a way to connect with the cosmos,” says solar physics researcher Michael Kirk of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “You can’t explain the beauty to people.”  

But there can be far more to the experience than the actual eclipse, which takes less than three minutes. A celebratory energy is already pulsing through towns and cities in the 14 states along the eclipse's narrow path. Many plan to celebrate with all kinds of activities. For example:

Madras, Ore. (eclipse: 10:19 a.m. Pacific Time) This tiny town, about 120 miles southeast of Portland, is hosting a massive SolarFest Aug. 17-22, with three days of music — lots of country and tribute rock bands — and entertainment at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. You can reserve a spot for RV and tent camping (or shell out $1,449 for a large “glamping” tent with cots) at the Solartown campground, which will be set up nearby on the centerline of totality.

Hikers in Wyoming

The mountains of Wyoming will soon be packed with people hoping to see the total eclipse.

Jeff Diener/Getty Images

Casper, Wyo. (eclipse: 11:42 a.m. Mountain Time) With clear air and an altitude of 5,000 feet, Casper swears it's a prime viewing spot. The town is celebrating with theWyoming Eclipse Festival (tagline: "Totality — Feel the Shadow") beginning on the 16th. There are lots of spots set aside for public viewing, such as the outdoor Casper Events Center, which sits on a bluff overlooking the city, and the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, offering a week's worth of festivities. The gorgeous Grand Teton National Park to the west is in the eclipse path as well, though the park is anticipating that Aug. 21 will be its busiest day ever.

Homestead National Monument, Neb. (eclipse: 1:02 Central Time) Bill Nye the Science Guy leads the cheers on eclipse day at Homestead, which is about 50 miles south of Lincoln. Visitors can make pinhole viewers to safely watch the partial phases of the eclipse. NASA scientists will talk about subjects like space exploration and astronaut training, and another expert will cover “Native American Starlore.” There will be lots of kid-friendly activities, too.

Jefferson City, Mo. (eclipse: 1:15 p.m. CT) The total eclipse is a huge deal for this capital city, which hasn’t seen one in 148 years. And, unlike other Midwestern cities such as St. Louis (about a two-hour drive west) and Kansas City, which are on the edge of the viewing range, Jefferson’s in the sweet spot for maximum totality. Among the festivities is the Capitol Eclipse Celebration, with corn mazes, sci-fi movie screenings and a Dark Side of the Moon concert performed by a Pink Floyd tribute band, Interstellar Overdrive.

St. Clair, Mo.: (eclipse: 1:15 p.m. CT) They're calling it "Get Your Eclipse on Route 66," an eclipse fest from Aug. 18 to 21 that will include the Route 66 Bluegrass Festival, Route 66 Car Show, a craft fair and parade. Viewing stations will be set up around the town, which is about an hour's drive southwest from St. Louis.

Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne will headline an eclipse party in Illinois.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Carterville, Ill. (eclipse: 1:20 p.m. CT) About two hours southeast of St. Louis, you’ll find Moonstock, a rocking eclipse-themed music festival featuring four days of headbanging bands like Saliva and Pop Evil — climaxing with headliner Ozzy Osbourne kicking off his concert during the eclipse with “Bark at the Moon.” It’s being held at a vineyard, which is releasing a special wine for the event called Solar Red.

Downtown Nashville

An afternoon in Nashville is typically busy, but even more will be happening during the eclipse.

iStock

Nashville, Tenn. (eclipse: 1:27 p.m. CT) Nashville's pumped to be the largest U.S. city on the eclipse path, and it's sure to draw huge crowds of music-loving eclipse watchers. The Music City Solar Eclipse Festival at the Adventure Science Center will be a hot spot, offering more than 175 science exhibits, plus eclipse shows in the Sudekum Planetarium, and free outdoor astronomy exhibits and a viewing party. Among many other celebrations, The Grand Ole Opry's hosting a special concert on the 20th featuring Darius Rucker, Little Big Town and other faves, in the eclipse's honor.

Clayton, Ga. (eclipse: 2:35 p.m. ET) Rabun County's going ga-ga over the eclipse, celebrating with the Outasight festival and all kinds of fun, such as outdoor bluegrass performances in Tallulah Falls (bring your fiddle or guitar and join in), eclipse viewing events at Tallulah Gorge State Park, parties at local vineyards and more.

Columbia, SC

Whether you’re on a rooftop or a horse and buggy in Columbia, S.C. you’re bound to get a great view of the eclipse.

iStock

Columbia, S.C. (eclipse: 2:41 p.m. ET). The tourist board here is giddy to be considered the best spot on the East Coast for eclipse viewing. The city is offering special historic and food tours, and there are local viewing parties and festivals galore, including  the Grape Eclipse, a four-day wine lovers festival at Mercer House Estate Winery in nearby Lexington. Charleston, two hours away on the coast, is also a hot spot, though it’s at the edge of the eclipse path, so totality won’t last as long (about 1 minute 33 seconds, compared with 2 minutes 30 seconds in Columbia). 

The Caribbean (eclipse: approx. 3:30 ET)  Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis of the Seas will take passengers on a seven-night Caribbean cruise departing Orlando (Port Canaveral), Fla., on Aug. 20, heading for the path of totality around 400 nautical miles off the Florida coast. The cruise (from $975 per person) will include eclipse- and space-themed trivia contests, midnight dance parties and science activities for kids.

Solar Eclipse

 An example of what the solar eclipse will look like

Jamie Cooper/Getty Images

If you go, some tips:


1. Find a panoramic viewpoint in advance. Consider checking out the location of the sun at the time of the eclipse a day ahead to make sure nothing will block your view.

2. Don’t take pictures. Put the smartphone down! Spend your minute or two of totality enjoying and absorbing this spectacular event. Photos can never capture the feeling. And Facebook will already be packed with pics.

3. Don't look at the sun. This is the tip everyone hears about, but here's why: You can cause serious damage or blindness in a matter of seconds. During totality, when the moon completely covers the sun, you can safely look at the black moon-dot and the ethereal solar corona. But if you want to see the crescent-shaped partial phases of the eclipse, buy No. 14 welder’s glass or special eclipse glasses from observatories, science museums and reputable dealers such as Rainbow Symphony or Eclipse2017.

You can also watch on NASA’s eclipse live-stream. Find more information at eclipse2017.nasa.gov.

April Orcutt is a California-based eclipsophile who has traveled the planet to experience the brief magic of total solar eclipses.

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