Total Solar Eclipse on April 8: Travel and Viewing Tips

Advice from our editor who witnessed the 2017 event

By now, you’ve likely heard one of the biggest astronomical events of the decade will happen across North America on Monday, April 8. A total solar eclipse‘s path of totality, where the moon passes between the Earth and sun, almost completely blocking the sun for a short period of time, is expected to start in the South Pacific Ocean and pass in a northeastern direction across Mexico to eastern Canada.

The total solar eclipse path in the United States is a narrow area but includes heavily populated cities including Dallas, Texas, Indianapolis, Indiana, Columbus, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York. A partial eclipse is expected to be visible in 48 states. Those states will see some of the action, but the moon’s shadow will not fully turn daylight dark like it does during a full solar eclipse.

 

An estimated lucky 32 million people live within the path of totality, which passes over 15 states. Officials are predicting another 1 million to 3.7 million Americans will travel that day to the path of totality to witness the event. Up to 1 million people are expected to visit Texas alone because of the state’s likelihood for clear skies and the longest duration of the event (4 minutes and 26 seconds) that day.

The last time a total solar eclipse passed over the United States—along a completely different track hitting different areas of the U.S.—was Aug. 21, 2017. My family and I chased that event, driving from our Minnesota home to a rural spot near Lusk, Wyoming, redirecting a few different times over the previous 48 hours to peep the incredible event. I count the experience as one of my favorite family travel experiences ever. The next U.S. total solar eclipse won’t happen until Aug. 23, 2044, according to NASA.

I get very animated when I describe what we saw at the event. I wasn’t completely prepared for how quiet the Earth becomes, how the temperature drops about 10 degrees almost immediately, how dark the sky turns seemingly so quickly and then brightens again minutes later. And how an hours-long traffic jam on the rural roads of Wyoming still couldn’t dampen my awe. It’s shiver-inducing and a privilege to experience. With that in mind, I offer these tips for anyone wondering if it’s worth it to attempt to see this year’s event. I whole-heartedly encourage it. We are planning to travel again this year, and invite readers to follow along.

Amy Nelson

The total solar eclipse in 2017 in Wyoming.

BE FLEXIBLE

Last time, we planned to drive to Missouri but changed our course when it looked like that state may have heavy cloud cover. We headed west instead, getting a hotel room last-minute in Rapid City, South Dakota, the night before. This year, we have a reservation in Mark Twain National Forest for three nights and will pull our teardrop camper. Lots of hotels, AirBnbs, and campsites within the path of totality are already sold out, but some last-minute deals may pop up. My brother and his family live in the totality path in Ohio and invited us there, but we’re hoping the drive to Missouri is quicker and a better chance for clear skies. (We’re also keeping our options open, and may end up at my family’s doorstep Monday morning after all. The local school district has canceled classes for the day.)

BE PREPARED

Traffic is expected to be heavy the weekend before and the afternoon after the eclipse everywhere within the path of totality. More travelers like us may keep driving south based on the weather and cloud cover. We hope to settle into our Missouri campsite by Sunday and remain there through Monday evening. We obviously will need to be stocked up with food and extra gasoline in case the wait to head back home is longer than expected. The small gas station we stopped at in Wyoming six years ago ran out of gas at it pumps and cash out of the town’s only ATM. The line to purchase snacks and water was about 45 minutes as well. (In a small-world coincidence, we saw some Minnesota friends, Nate and Renee, as we passed through town that day.)

We’ll also have our viewing glasses from 2017, including special binoculars. Do NOT attempt to watch the event (i.e. look directly at the sun) without eye protection. NASA advises viewers to to wear glasses that comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard. This is very important because not using the proper protection can mean permanent eye damage.

You’ll also want to know exactly when the totality is expected in your location because it’s quick and you don’t want to miss it. Go outside and see the wonder in real life. If you can’t travel to the path of totality, try to view the partial eclipse where you are. In Minnesota, the maximum coverage is expected about 1 p.m. and with a nearly 80 percent magnitude in some locations. Even with partial viewings, make sure to wear eye protection! Several Minnesota organizations are planning local viewing events, too.

Viewing the eclipse in 2017.

Amy Nelson

As editor of Minnesota Monthly, Amy works collaboratively with a team of writers, designers, photographers, and digital producers to create impactful, surprising, timely and insightful content that reflects the Spirit of Minnesota. An award-winning newspaper and magazine editor based in the Twin Cities, Amy has decades of experience guiding coverage of luxury living, arts and culture, style and travel topics across multiple platforms. She has interviewed personalities ranging from Prince to Roger Goodell and has stories to tell.