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Why You Should Plan a Trip Now to See the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 11/14/2016 Tyler Moss

Imagine standing outside in the afternoon heat of a summer day when the world suddenly goes dark. The temperature drops 10 or 15 degrees, and when you look up at the sun, in its place is a pitch-black bullet hole surrounded by an electric-white gossamer ring—known as the corona. Bright planets and stars shine vibrantly, and a twilight glow fills the horizon.

That’s how astronomer and Sky & Telescope magazine senior editor Kelly Beatty describes seeing a total solar eclipse—a natural phenomenon in which the moon completely blocks out the sun (distinct from more common partial solar eclipses). And while the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years may not be gracing the sky until next summer, the time to book your travel to an ideal viewing location is now.

Why plan a year in advance? For starters, seeing a total solar eclipse from a specific location is exceptionally rare, because unlike a lunar eclipse, you must be within the narrow path the moon's shadow casts across the Earth in order to see the event. (If you are outside this strip, the sun appears to be only partially covered.) Come August 21, 2017, you may just be in luck: Some 300 million North Americans live within a one- to two-day drive of the eclipse’s path, which will pass from the Oregon coast across the country, out into the Atlantic by way of South Carolina. Star-gazing aficionados travel far and wide to seek out a total solar eclipse, so the convenience of this event is compelling unto itself—and another reason to book that hotel room before rates start rising.

The closer you are to the middle of the 70-mile-wide path, the longer the total solar eclipse will last (the maximum being about two minutes and 40 seconds for this particular eclipse). There's also the certainty of the locations, too—no booking a hotel in Savannah only to find out at the last minute that it's skipping it in favor of Charleston, for example: A map at can accurately pinpoint the time the eclipse will take place up to a tenth of a second, and can help you plot a prime viewing locale. Another factor to take into consideration? Visibility.

“Given that it’s August, mid-day, there will be a lot of humid weather from the Mississippi River to the East Coast,” Beatty says, warning that those in the southeast suffer the highest risk of having their view blocked by cloud cover. Gazers along the Pacific coast will experience similar visibility issues thanks to moisture from the ocean rising up into the mountains. Thus, the most ideal viewing will be from eastern Oregon, along the Snake River Plain of Idaho, and down into the Great Plains, where conditions are more likely to be dry and clear. Towns such as Jackson, Wyoming (where the total eclipse will occur at approximately 11:36 a.m. M.T.), or Columbia, Missouri (1:14 p.m. C.T.) are strong contenders for an ideal viewing experience.

So buy your solar-protective eyewear, book a room somewhere near (or in) the eclipse track, and prepare for what to many is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence—and what many also describe as a “religious experience.”

“You see pictures of total eclipses," Beatty says, "but no picture does justice to what your eyes will see." View our complete list of the best places to visit in the U.S.

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