On August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will cross the continental United States. This hasn’t happened in 38 years! The last time an eclipse path crossed the continental United States was in 1979. At the time, Jimmy Carter was president, a gallon of gas cost 86 cents, and Atari video games were a hot item. The total solar eclipse will travel from Oregon to South Carolina and cross over 21 national park units and 7 trails. Although the partial eclipse will be visible anywhere in the continental United States, it will not compare to experiencing the total eclipse.
National parks offer an amazing setting for watching the eclipse. The National Park Service mission to preserve special places for the enjoyment of everyone means that you can experience this historical event in a place that represents our heritage. National parks are also places to learn about our world. For example, monitoring air quality and starry night skies helps us understand how hazy skies affect parks and visitors. Working with partners, we can protect what is special about parks so that they are there for you to enjoy. While you are visiting, events at parks will help you make the most out of this unique solar event while you learn about the park.
No matter where you go, plan ahead. People have been planning where they want to view the eclipse years in advance. As a result, lodging and camping around many parks in the path of the total eclipse are full. It’s hard to estimate how busy parks will be, but planning ahead will help make the experience unique and enjoyable. Here are some things to consider:
- Protect your eyes. Bring your eclipse glasses. You don’t want to arrive and discover the local stores are all sold out. The eclipse will be amazing, but it’s not worth your eyesight. Learn more about safely viewing the eclipse.
- Driving. Get there early; parking could be scarce.
- Pack a picnic. Snacks, water, and a lunch will help make waiting for the big event enjoyable.
While you are at the park
The eclipse will take 2–3 hours from start to finish with the total eclipse only occurring for 1 minute on the edge of the path of totality to a maximum of 2 minutes, 41 seconds, on the center line in Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky. Since you are in a park, it is a great time to explore. Here are some ideas:
- Explore the park. Take a hike, check out the visitor center, or attend a ranger program. There are amazing stories to discover in the park.
- Become a Junior Ranger. Download a copy of the Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer booklet. Check out other junior ranger books online (some of these are available at parks, too). You can also become a star explorer, paleontologist, cave scientist, or other specialty junior ranger.
- Stay for the stars. The sun may steal the show, but stargazing can also remind you of your place in the universe. Check to see if the park has nighttime stargazing programs.
- Join the ranks of citizen scientists. iNaturalist is looking for citizen scientists to document animal and plant behavior during the eclipse. Check out NASA’s Public Engagement site for other ideas for getting involved. If you will be along the path of totality for the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, then you may want to participate in the Eclipse Megamovie Project.
Last updated: October 31, 2018