Mother Nature will put on quite the magic show this summer — the first total solar eclipse in almost 40 years will cross the nation on Aug. 21. There are many destinations within the “path of totality” — or longest viewing time — from South Carolina to Oregon, and summer vacations are being planned in a hurry.
This year’s solar eclipse is special for several reasons. It will be the first solar eclipse in the continental United States since 1979, it will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the United States from coast to coast since 1918, and it will be the very first solar eclipse to exclusively cross the territory of the United States since the nation’s founding in 1776. “Besides the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, no other islands or nations will experience total solar eclipse,” says Michael Zeiler, co-owner of GreatAmericanEclipse.com.
In the dark about where to experience the must-see show? Here are just some of many destinations with path-of-totality bragging rights.
Take a whitewater raft trip down Jackson Hole’s Snake River. Sign up for Mad River Boat Trips’ “Solar Eclipse Special,” a six-hour, eight-mile guided ride down the river’s eight sets of rapids (from class I to class III). You’ll stop for lunch at Mad River’s exclusive Blind Canyon campsite, and this is also where you’ll view the eclipse. The cost for a spot on an eight-person raft is $323 and on a 16-person raft is $299—also includes solar eclipse viewing glasses, and wetsuits and booties. www.Mad-River.com
You don’t have to be a guest at the five-star Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole to join astronomers at a viewing party at Rendezvous Lodge (part of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) near the peak of the Teton Range. You’ll ride up on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Bridger Gondola to an elevation of 9,095 feet, where experts from Teton Skies will lead a viewing experience using state-of-the-art hydrogen-alpha solar telescopes, and astrophysicist Ryan Hennessy will discuss the science behind each eclipse stage. The ticket cost for hotel guests — and nonguests — is $375 per person and includes food and drinks catered by the Four Seasons chefs, an open bar of cocktails including Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, and indoor or outdoor seating. www.fourseasons.com/jacksonhole
For urban eclipse viewing, Nashville is spot-on, and the city has put together city-wide Eclipse Vacation packages; check them out at www.visitmusiccity.com
The Union Station Hotel Nashville, located a beat away from Music Row, is also offering a deal called “From NASA to Nashville: Not Just Another Nashville Star.” The package includes accommodations for two, eclipse viewing glasses, an exclusive viewing party, champagne celebration with commemorative champagne glasses, valet parking and in-room moon pie and astronaut ice cream. The package rate begins at $478 per night; (minimum two nights — Aug. 20 and 21). Upgrade the package ($821 per night), and you’ll get an engraved commemorative personal telescope, a limited-edition Nashville Total Eclipse poster, and an opportunity to share your eclipse enthusiasm with a local astronomer. www.unionstationnashvillehotel.com
Gatlinburg is another prominent viewing site in the Volunteer State that will eclipse all others. It will be dark as night in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the ring of fire should be visible from Gatlinburg, where ticketed and casual eclipse events are planned. Stay at The Foxtrot Bed and Breakfast with good views of Mount Le Conte and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; toast the ring of fire with sparkling cider in a souvenir crystal champagne flute from your suite’s private balcony. The innkeepers will also pack a lunch for you to adventure into the park to witness the event from there. Rates begin at $190 per night. www.thefoxtrot.com
Another city experience, Columbia will experience two minutes and 36 seconds of totality — the longest duration of total eclipse for an East Coast metro area. “NASA scientist Dr. Eric Christian told us on a live video chat last fall that South Carolina could see one million visitors. That’s still sinking in,” says Andrea Mensink, director of communications, Columbia CVB.
Eclipse-centric events in Columbia include a Low Country boil and paella party at City Roots Urban Sustainable Farm; educational programming at the Boeing Observatory; The South Carolina Philharmonic “Star Wars Musiclipse” concert; and ranger-led hikes to prime viewing locations at nearby Congaree National Park.
Some Columbia hotel options: The Hyatt Place Columbia Downtown will give guests complimentary eclipse glasses; the Sheraton Downtown Columbia’s rooftop bar will be a great spot for viewing; and Springhill Suites Columbia Downtown is a solid option for families — it is across the street from the South Carolina State Museum which will host tons of kid-and-eclipse-related activities, and sits on the Congaree River and Riverfront Park.
The Bluegrass State represents. The small town of Hopkinsville will have front-row seats to witness the sun disappear for two minutes and 40 seconds in the early afternoon. NASA recognizes “Hoptown” as “the point of greatest eclipse,” says Brooke Jung, solar eclipse marketing and events consultant for Hopkinsville.
There are celebratory festivals, including a pre-eclipse Summer Salute Festival and the Jefferson Davis Solar Eclipse Festival, both with music, kid activities and food. Hotels are offering solar eclipse tie-in rates, including Best Western Hopkinsville, Hampton Inn & Suites Hopkinsville — and there are camping options, too. For more information, visit www.eclipseville.com
Portland will not be in the path of totality, but a wide swath of Oregon will be — including Willamette Valley. Take a private Evergreen Escapes tour, departing from Portland, to witness the eclipse at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s viewing party at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. After the event, you’ll stop off at Willamette Valley boutique wineries and breweries for tastings. The tours are for up to four people in a luxury Mercedes SUV. Cost: $1,400 for two, $150 each additional guest. www.evergreenescapes.com
Jackson County in western North Carolina, encompasses towns like Cashiers in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which will experience two-minutes-and-23-seconds of total darkness. Weekend events include solar eclipse educational panels at Southwestern Community College, a Moonlight Run, and Solar Fest 2017 — food trucks, music, food, and solar panel discussions leading up to the totality at 2:35pm.
Historic High Hampton Inn & Country Club in Cashiers will offer a “Total Eclipse on the Rock House Party” on the resort’s lawn overlooking Rock Mountain and Hampton Lake — live music, solar drink specials, and a build-your-own Moon Pie dessert station. Room rates start at $290 for single ($360 double) and includes meals; two-night minimum stay required. www.highhamptoninn.comLaurie Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.