Think the total solar eclipse is "sold out"? Think again — and grab your camping gear. Private campsites and RV parks within the long path of totality are still available.
If you believe everything you read, you might think the August 21st total solar eclipse is already sold out. But of course it's not. Are you going to find a cheap motel within the path of totality? No. But anyone who says there's no space––or that gridlock is inevitable––is wrong.
The increasingly negative narrative around the eclipse threatens to dissuade people from the incredible experience of totality, for no valid reason. Crossing the country from Oregon to South Carolina, the path of totality is 70 miles wide and more than 3,000 miles long. That's more than 200,000 square miles that will see a total solar eclipse. According to my research for the USA Eclipse 2017 Camping & RV Guide, there's never been an eclipse path as full of opportunities to camp or park an RV.
Privately owned ranches, farms, and vineyards are still advertising spaces for tents and RV parking, and some are so vast that they are unlikely to sell out. (You can find some listings at Sky & Telescope’s MarketPlace: check the 2017 Solar Eclipse Venues and Real Estate Eclipse Rentals categories.)
The fact is, most Americans will make do with a partial eclipse on August 21st and wonder what all the hype was about. Michael Zeiler at GreatAmericanEclipse.com predicts that between 1.85 million and 7.4 million people living outside the path, a small fraction of our nation’s population, will make the trip toward totality.
That's an estimate, of course — what actually happens will depend largely on how many people learn of the event the weekend before the eclipse and decide to take a day trip. But from my experience, speculative stories about traffic tend to warn people off that kind of last-minute travelling — especially since many don't realize what they're foregoing in not seeing totality.
However, there is potential for trouble. Zeiler has done excellent work predicting eclipse visitation, and he cites Santee, South Carolina, as an area of potential concern. That's where Interstate 95 intersects the centerline of the path of totality, so it seems like a logical place for anyone on the east coast, from Florida to Maine to travel toward. As a result, South Carolina in general is bound to be busy.
A wise move for people who want to see totality will be to arrive at their destination the day before the total solar eclipse (or even two days before, if it’s possible). If you head for rural areas, particularly out West where the population is far lower, congestion may be less of an issue. There are exceptions: Glendo, Wyoming, is the closest viewing location to Denver; likewise Idaho Falls, Idaho, is the closest viewing location to Salt Lake City, as well as Las Vegas and California. If you're planning to drive to either of those places on the morning of the eclipse, reconsider that plan now––travel the day before to somewhere less obvious.
Booking a campsite is the obvious solution to potential problems. Well-publicized events at honeypot sites such as Madras, Salem, the Painted Hills in Oregon, and Jackson Hole in Wyoming will all be very busy. But get yourself to a campsite in eastern Idaho's Swan Valley, in Wyoming's Wind River area, or anywhere in western Nebraska, and you're unlikely to remember this eclipse for anything other than a solitary and stunning totality.