National parks, theme parks and great beaches typically inspire vacations.
This summer, travelers are adding another incentive to the list: dark skies in the middle of the day.
On Aug. 21, a total eclipse of the sun will arc across the country from Portland, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., in a 70-mile-wide ribbon. It will be the first total solar eclipse visible from the United States since 1979 and the first to sweep the entire nation in 99 years.
“This is a big deal,” said Sally Brummel, Bell Museum and Planetarium program manager at the University of Minnesota. “It’s a fantastic experience. All of a sudden, there is just darkness. The birds get confused, you hear all this weird chirping — it’s the kind of thing you really can’t believe until you experience it.”
Minnesota won’t lose the sun completely; 84 percent of the phenomenon will be visible from the state, Brummel said — not enough to weaken the sun’s energy much or darken the sky.
But if you’re set on experiencing the breathtaking blackout, there are plenty of places to do so. Along what’s called the “path of totality,” where the eclipse will be complete, there are plush urban environments and wild areas far from the twinkle of city lights.
The key is to choose your viewing spot and make plans quickly. Hotel and rental home reservations are being snapped up at a record pace.
The cosmic magic won’t last long. At its greatest duration — just southeast of Carbondale, Ill. — the sun, moon and Earth will all align for two minutes and 40 seconds.
But the memories could last a lifetime.
If you can’t see it this time around, though, mark your calendar for the next total solar eclipse visible in the United States: April 8, 2024, just around the corner in eclipse terms.
Until then, check out these five great places to view the 2017 totality, listed from west to east.
1. Rexburg, Idaho
Traveling to see an eclipse can be risky business because proper appreciation of the event requires clear skies. If you want to improve your chances, head to Rexburg, one of the spots in eastern Idaho that lie in the path of totality. According to eclipsophile.com, Idaho has particularly clear skies in August, with as high as an 80-percent chance of cloudless viewing. Rexburg and Brigham Young University-Idaho are offering a series of lectures on eclipses the weekend before the Aug. 21 main event.
More information: rexburgeclipse.com; 1-208-372-2599.
Duration of totality: 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
Totality begins: 11:33 a.m.
Miles from the Twin Cities: Approximately 1,150.
2. Lincoln, Neb.
Because it lies just six hours south of the Twin Cities, Minnesotans are plenty familiar with Nebraska’s capital, which sits on the northern edge of the eclipse strip. The Lincoln Saltdogs, a minor league baseball team, will interrupt their game for half an hour so all can observe the sky’s winning ways. Southwest of the city, the wide-open expanses of Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center will provide unobstructed views.
More info: lincoln.org/play/eclipse; 1-402-434-5335.
Duration of totality: 1 minute, 24 seconds.
Totality begins: 1:02 p.m.
Miles from the Twin Cities: Approximately 430.
3. Columbia, Mo.
Kansas City may be a popular destination, but it’ll be in the shadow of its neighbor to the east come Aug. 21. Columbia is directly in the cross-country path of totality and will witness the eclipse when the sun is just about at its highest point of the day. The city is putting on a serious party in Cosmo Park (with a name like that, it was inevitable, right?), complete with food trucks, live music and big-screen movies, with plenty of other events around town.
More info: comoeclipse.com; 1-800-652-0987.
Duration of totality: 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
Totality begins: 1:12 p.m.
Miles from the Twin Cities: Approximately 490.
4. Carbondale, Ill.
If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, consider this otherwise sleepy town in the Prairie State, which will enjoy the longest plunge into darkness of any town on the map. Expect the home of just 26,000 to come alive over this late-August weekend with an arts and crafts fair, a science expo and a food and music marketplace all converging in one of the sites NASA has chosen for a live stream.
More info: carbondaleeclipse.com; or 1-618-529-4451.
Duration of totality: 2 minutes, 38 seconds.
Totality begins: 1:20 p.m.
Miles from the Twin Cities: Approximately 705.
There are plenty of reasons to head to Music City, the biggest city on the eclipse strip, any time of the year. But on Aug. 21, Nashville will be as vibrant as ever and is serving up some of the most creative ways to watch the moon blot out the sun. Want to float in darkness? The Nashville Paddle Co. is accepting reservations for the day. If you want to see some real confusion, head to the Nashville Zoo and watch the animals when the sky goes dark. There are plenty of other parties and viewing opportunities around town, too.
More info: visitmusiccity.com; 1-800-657-6910.
Duration of totality: 2 minutes.
Totality begins: 1:27 p.m.
Miles from the Twin Cities: Approximately 880.