What is an Eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in its orbit between the earth and our local star, the sun. While the moon is much smaller than the sun, it’s also much closer to us here on Earth. The result is that the moon appears to us to be almost the same size as the sun. This also means that when conditions are right, the moon can totally block out the sun, turning day into night in the middle of the afternoon. A solar eclipse is an event that over centuries of recorded history has inspired awe, inspiration, and a certain amount of fear among human beings. The sky goes dark. Earth goes dark. Temperatures drop quickly. Tendrils of light emanating from the sun radially can be seen behind the moon, lending the event an awesome, otherworldly appearance. In short, a total eclipse is a spectacular demonstration of the mechanics of our solar system. It’s well worth watching if you can.
The last total solar eclipse viewable from the United States occurred in 2017. It was dubbed the "Great American Eclipse," and an estimated 215 million people viewed the event, either in person or remotely. As terrific as that event was, though, the 2024 eclipse—the “Even Greater American Eclipse?”—will be bigger and last longer than the event in 2017. Incidentally, it’s very unusual to have another eclipse take place only seven years after its predecessor. For example, before 2017, the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse took place in 1918. And after April of 2024, there won’t be another total solar eclipse widely viewable from the U.S. until 2045. The bottom line is that 2024 will be a great chance to make a lasting memory of this rare celestial phenomenon.
Partial Eclipse vs. Totality—What’s the Difference?
Technically, an eclipse occurs whenever any part of the moon hides any part of the sun. If the coverage is incomplete, the event is a partial eclipse. When the moon completely covers the sun, on the other hand, the event is called a total eclipse—and this condition of complete coverage is referred to as totality.
The duration of the 2024 eclipse, starting from the moment at which the moon starts to move across the face of the sun, dimming its light; and then into the period of totality, when the sun is 100% obscured; and progressing to the point at which the last portion of the moon moves past the sun and the sun returns to full brilliance, will last over two hours. The period of totality, by contrast, will last only a short time within the eclipse.
Totality will also vary somewhat depending on where the viewer is in the eclipse path. Viewers in the center of the path will see longer periods of totality than viewers at either edge. Further, the duration of totality will decrease as the eclipse moves northeastward across the United States. Thus, the totality will last for approximately four minutes and twenty-seven seconds in southwest Texas, but only around three minutes and forty-five seconds in Buffalo, New York, 1784 miles away. Why is this important? It matters because viewing a partial eclipse is interesting, but viewing a total eclipse is phenomenal.
How Can I Track the Eclipse?
Figuring out where to see the eclipse in its totality involves a review of the 2024 solar eclipse path. The path of totality will be 120 miles wide where it enters the United States and will taper slightly as it crosses the country. If you are anywhere within this miles-wide path, you will be able to witness the eclipse in its totality—in other words, a total eclipse of the sun.
In the United States, the eclipse will start at 12:10 p.m. Central Standard Time at Eagle Pass in southwest Texas, with totality starting at 1:27 p.m. and ending four and half minutes later. The eclipse will track northeast, making a broad, scythe-like track through the heart of Texas, up across the southeastern corner of Oklahoma, and then through Arkansas, a thin sliver of northwest Kentucky, and parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. This map developed by Xavier Jubier allows you to see the path in full and type in your destination of choice.
Along the way, the following large cities, along with hundreds of smaller municipalities, will witness totality
A small portion of eastern Canada, including the cities of Hamilton and Montreal, will see totality as well.
How Should I Prepare to Watch the 2024 Solar Eclipse?
If you’re lucky enough to live within the path of totality, you need only walk out on your street or in your backyard to see the eclipse. But many Americans will need to travel to see the total blackout occur. Because an eclipse doesn’t last long, and totality during the eclipse is even shorter, it’s important to prepare for this event well ahead of time. This means, among other things, that you will need to take local traffic conditions into account when calculating your arrival time at your chosen destination. Cities and towns in the path of the eclipse will likely be crowded with sky-watchers on April 8, so traffic issues may make arrival and getting around afterward slower than usual—especially in smaller municipalities that are less equipped to deal with a big influx of people. Generally speaking, it makes sense to plan your arrival at least a day before the eclipse rather than on the day of the event itself.
Campers wanting to enjoy the eclipse should be set up and waiting before the event occurs. Once you’ve found a good camping spot, make sure your view of the sky is not blocked by hills, trees, or other natural or man-made objects.
All your usual gear will come in handy. For campers in the South, this should include bug spray and lightweight clothing; April in Texas can be warm. For those adventuring further north, be sure to pack warm sweaters and coats for colder temperatures. Bring along any technology you want to use to capture images of the eclipse: cameras, telescopes, binoculars—anything that will allow for enhanced (but protected) viewing of the event. You’ll also want your eclipse glasses, sun screen (let’s hope!), a comfortable camp chair or hammock for waiting, and your favorite space-themed book, movie, or musical playlist to set the mood. Mark Twain’s fanciful novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court uses a solar eclipse as an important plot device. The musical playlist practically makes itself: “Blue Moon,” by the Marcels, Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Here Comes the Sun,” by the Beatles … you get the idea.
What About Eye Protection?
Feeling jazzed about the Greater American Eclipse? So are we! But there’s a couple of practical considerations to keep in mind when planning your eclipse experience. The first one is safety. Do not attempt to view the eclipse without eye protection. Any amount of direct exposure to sunlight can damage the eye, sometimes permanently. In this regard note that binoculars, camera lenses, and telescope lenses are not protection; in fact, they can contribute to an eye injury. Further, while viewing the eclipse during the period of 100% coverage of the sun—totality, in other words—is theoretically safe, bear in mind that you may not be able to judge exactly when totality starts and when it ends. It’s better to be cautious, so consider keeping your protective glasses on any time you gaze at the eclipse. This goes double for kids. Any minor attempting to observe the 2024 eclipse should be carefully supervised.
There are various ways to protect your eyes. Leading up to the 2017 eclipse, it was fairly easy to obtain plastic protective glasses for viewing the event, and the same should hold true in 2024. The current standard for safe solar viewing is ISO (International Standardization Organization) 12312-2; your eclipse glasses or any other viewing device should indicate whether they meet this standard. Make sure that your glasses are not scratched, wrinkled, or damaged in any way. The key is to act early, as it may prove difficult to find someone who is willing to share their eclipse glasses with you during the event. If you’re unable to find eclipse glasses, you can go online to find instructions to create what’s called a pinhole projector, which will allow you to watch the eclipse indirectly.
What About Weather?
The other caution to keep in mind is this: No matter how wide the path of totality, and how well you’ve prepared and located yourself, the quality of your experience will depend on the weather. Millions of Americans watched the solar eclipse in person in 2017 under sunny August skies. There is no guarantee that the weather in April of 2024 will be as helpful. In fact, April tends to be somewhat cloudier than August in most parts of the country. Texas offers better chances for clear skies in April than areas further north. Thus, many eclipse watchers will be trying to find good camping spots in the southern reaches of the path of the solar eclipse, particularly near Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Spots in these areas are sure to be at a premium, so plan early—and remember to check websites associated with your intended destination for specific information that may impact your plans. Many towns and cities already have information posted online about how the eclipse will affect their communities.
How Can I Find the Best Viewing Spots?
Okay, enough with the cautions. Here’s a rundown of the best places in the nation to see the 2024 eclipse. Because the eclipse will occur in April, fairly early in the year, many campgrounds in the Northern States such as Vermont and New Hampshire are not yet open for the season. The following outlines campgrounds that should be open in April 2024. Remember to check any of our Campspots on Campspot.com for eclipse-viewing availability well in advance.
Texas will offer lots of prime viewing spots in the path of the 2024 eclipse. Indeed, given the state’s size and the location of several large cities along the path, it’s probable that more people will watch the moon hide the sun in Texas than in any other state. Border town Eagle Pass will be the first American municipality to experience the eclipse, which will start locally just after noon and last until almost three. Further north, Texas Hill Country towns like Bandera, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Burnet are situated with the path of totality, offer numerous amenities, and are accustomed to high numbers of campers. Tourist hotspot Austin will see the totality as well, but since it is located on the southern edge of the eclipse’s path, the duration of totality in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” as it calls itself, will be slightly shorter than areas to the north and west, including Waco, Hillsboro, and Dallas. Here are some promising eclipse-viewing Campspots: Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, which caters to offroad and four-wheeling enthusiasts; Sun Outdoors Lake Travis, which is near Austin but has a slightly longer period of totality than the big city; and Blue Sky at Cedar Creek Lake RV Park in rural Seven Points, Texas.
Only a very limited portion of southeastern Oklahoma will see totality, which will start at 1:45 p.m. CST. River Camp RV Park and Hochatown RV Park, both near Broken Bow, are favorable Campspots for eclipse-watching, as each site will allow campers to experience over four minutes of totality. Heaven's Gate RV Park and Retreat is just north and located in Muse, OK. This park will also be within the path of totality, though slightly outside the eclipse centerline.
Little Rock is on the eastern edge of the path of totality, so starting from the city and camping anywhere within seventy miles to the west should provide for good viewing. If you want to head into upstate Arkansas, Whitewater RV Park and Mountain View Hotel and RV Park, both in rural Mountain View, Arkansas, are well positioned for eclipse viewing and have sites for RV and primitive/tent camping. Mountain View prides itself on its folk music scene, so there may be listening as well as viewing opportunities here.Another option would be to go tent camping in Hot Springs, Arkansas at Hot Springs Off-Road Park. This campground offers a 1,250 acre trail system for off-roading adventures.
The 2024 solar eclipse path will largely miss major population centers in Missouri. The largest city in the state to sit in the path of totality is Cape Girardeau. The Totality will start there at 1:58 p.m. CST and last for just over four minutes. Nearby Campspots in the path include Four Creeks Ranch Campground in Ellington, MO and Otahki Lake Cabins & Campgrounds in Patterson, MO. Want a little wine with your eclipse viewing? Camp at Black River Wine House & RV Retreat in Annapolis, MO for your choice of Missouri wine and craft beer.
A narrow sliver of northwest Kentucky will afford totality viewing opportunities. Henderson will be among the best spots, with two minutes and thirty-seven seconds of total eclipse. Campspot Birdsville Riverside RV Park in Smithland, is within the path of totality, but note that campers there will see only thirty seconds of the full eclipse. In Paducah, only eighteen miles away, viewers will see a minute and thirty-one seconds of totality.
Carbondale will once again find itself perfectly positioned for eclipse viewing, just as it was in 2017—though the viewing experience then was limited by cloud cover. Assuming all goes well in 2024, Carbondale should experience over four minutes of totality. For camping opportunities, check out Camp Lakewood Campground in Effingham, IL, where the eclipse will occur at 2:03:59 PM CDT and last 32 seconds.
Hoosiers will have plenty of opportunities to see totality, as the path of the eclipse runs through such cities as Vincennes, Bloomington, and Indianapolis. Terre Haute will see two minutes and fifty-three seconds of totality starting at 3:04 Eastern Standard Time. For camping opportunities, check out Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground in Morgantown, Hidden Paradise Campground in St. Paul, and Wheelock Lake Campground in Dillsboro, IN.
In the heart of the Midwest, the path of totality runs not only through mighty Cleveland, but also through Wapakoneta, the much smaller hometown of the great Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong. For camping opportunities, check out Sky Lake RV Resort in Springfield, Off the Hook Campground in Camden, and The Lost Horizons Family Campground in Loudonville.
The Keystone State will get only a very limited slice of totality. The lakeside city of Erie, however, is well situated for the 2024 event, and will get three minutes and forty-two seconds of total eclipse starting at 3:16 p.m. EST. For camping opportunities check out Goddard Park Vacationland Campground in Sandy Lake, and Presque Isle Passage RV Park and Cabins in Fairview.
Upstate residents of the Empire State, including the almost half a million New Yorkers who live in Buffalo and Rochester, will get splendid views of the total eclipse, with the duration in Buffalo lasting for around three minutes and forty-five seconds. The eclipse will also be visible north of the Syracuse area. For camping opportunities, check out Niagra Shores Campground and Conference Center in Appleton, Port Bay Campground in Wolcott, and Weedsport Speedway Campground in Weedsport.
While not much of Vermont is in the path of totality, the state’s capital and largest city, Burlington, will see three minutes and sixteen seconds of total eclipse. A vast majority of campgrounds in this area are still closed for the season, though if you're native to this area we encourage you to camp out in your back yard if you live in the greater Burlington area!
The Granite State offers very limited totality viewing, and only in the northernmost portion of the state. Unfortunately, the time of year means that most campgrounds in the state are still closed for the season. If you live near Northumberland, you'll have a good vantage point for viewing a minute and thirty-four seconds of totality.
By the time the 2024 solar eclipse reaches Maine, its path will have shrunk to a width of 112 miles, and the duration of totality will be in the three-minute range. One prime spot will be Greenville, which will see three minutes and one second of total eclipse. Greenville’s Wilson Pond Cabins offers lodging year-round. Be sure to remember your cold weather gear if you’re traveling to Maine!