5 National Parks Where You Can Watch the Total Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will take place across North America. For a period of about two-three hours, most of the continent will experience a partial eclipse, while those within a roughly 70-mile band that runs from Oregon to South Carolina will experience a few minutes of total blackout. It is the first time such a celestial event has occurred since 1979, making it a rare opportunity to witness this spectacular natural phenomenon first-hand.

This has sparked many people to make plans to travel to destinations where the eclipse will be most prominent, with hotels, campsites, and rental properties having been booked months in advance. As it turns out, the path of the eclipse will actually cross over a number of U.S. national parks, making those amazing outdoor spaces a great place to watch the moon move across the sun. We've compiled our list of the very best national parks to experience this event as it unfolds, just don't forget to bring your protective...MORE sunglasses

  • 01 of 05

    John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: Oregon

    Painted Hills, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA
    ••• TerenceLeezy/Getty Images

    The eclipse will actually begin in the western U.S. during the morning of August 21 and move eastward throughout the day. One of the first national parks to fall in its path will the the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which will experience just over two minutes of totality when the moon blocks out the sun. That means it will be nearly pitch black for that period of time, brining night time during mid-day. 

    This park is best known for its extensive record of ancient Oregon's environment, which dates back some 40 million years. Mixed amongst the colorful hills and bluffs are a number of amazing fossils, which can be reached by hiking trail or scenic driving routes.

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    Grand Teton National Park: Wyoming

    Grand Teton National Park
    ••• Grand Teton National Park. Robert Alexsander/Getty Images

    Grand Teton National Park is a spectacular setting any time of year, which should make it an epic spot for watching the eclipse as well. It also falls in the path of totality and should experience several minutes of total darkness too. In fact, the park is preparing for an influx of visitors on August 21, and so it has designated specific eclipse viewing zones to keep the proceedings well organized. On top of that, park rangers and astronomers will be on hand to help visitors enjoy the experience more fully, offering interpretive programs and setting up telescopes to capture the moment more fully. 

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    Yellowstone National Park: Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

    Yellowstone National Park
    ••• The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

    America's first national park remains one of its absolute best. Yellowstone is a wonderful destination filled with breathtaking vistas and amazing wildlife, which puts it amongst the most visited parks each year. The abundance of geothermal activity that takes place throughout the park has created an almost other-worldly landscape in certain areas, which should be perfect for watching the eclipse as it unfolds.

    It should be noted however that Yellowstone sits a short distance north of Grand Teton National Park, which puts it just outside of the line of totality. That means that on the day of the eclipse, visitors to the park won't get the total blackout conditions found elsewhere. But because it is so close to the totality zone, it should still be an utterly spectacular place to view the celestial show taking place overhead. Remember, the eclipse will actually last for several hours, while the totality itself occurs for just a few minutes. 

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    Great Smoky Mountains: Tennessee and North Carolina

    A summer sunset over mountainsMalcolm MacGregor
    ••• Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images

    As the eclipse moves eastward throughout the day on August 21, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will fall into its path as well. The Smokies feature rolling hills, dense forests, and high mountain peaks, all of which make it a wonderful destination for adventurous travelers. 

    Visitor hoping to see the eclipse should travel to the western half of the park, which falls directly in the zone of totality. Other sections of the park will be cloaked in darkness throughout the day, but won't get the full experience that the totality delivers. With that in mind, the Park Service has organized viewing events at Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee. Park staff will be on hand at those places to provide information and answer questions too. 

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  • 05 of 05

    Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

    Man with backpack walks through Congaree National Park
    ••• Brian W. Downs/Getty Images

    Located in the wilds of South Carolina, Congaree National Park is home to one of the last remaining stands of old growth hardwood forests in North America. This makes it a pristine environment for hiking and camping, drawing thousand of visitors throughout the year. But, the park also happens to fall directly in the line of totality for the eclipse as well, making it a prime spot for travelers come August 21.

    To celebrate this once in a lifetime occurrence the park is holding a series of programs called "Shadows & Science" throughout the weekend preceding the eclipse. Additionally, on the day of the event, park staff will also offer guided solar eclipse hikes as well, taking visitors into sections of Congaree that are perfect for watching the proceedings unfold. 

These are some of the best national parks to catch the 2017 total eclipse. But should you fail to make it to one of these destinations, don't worry. The next total eclipse will occur in North American on April 8, 2024, and its never too early to start making your plans for that event.