One year before total solar eclipse, viewing spots are filling up fast

Alan Boyle
Total solar eclipse
Total solar eclipse

It’s exactly one year before the “Great American Eclipse” sweeps across the continent, but depending on where you want to stay, it’s already too late to make a reservation.

On one level, the solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, should rank among the most accessible such phenomena for Americans – and it’s not to be missed. Partial phases of the eclipse should be visible, weather permitting, from most of North America. For example, up to 92 percent of the sun’s disk will be covered as seen from Seattle.

On another level, the eclipse is a hot ticket: Its total phase will be visible only along a roughly 70-mile-wide track that extends from Oregon to South Carolina. Totality means the moon blots out the sun’s entire disk, turning daylight to nighttime for up to two and a half minutes.

Statistically speaking, most of the best places to go for clear skies in August are in a swath of the West ranging from central Oregon to Nebraska. And by some measures, the absolute best is Madras, Ore.

But just try getting a room in Oregon. My efforts to make a reservation initially led me down a path toward reserving a motel room that was a three-hour drive away from the totality zone. A search for campsites and Airbnb openings went similarly, until I hit upon Oregon SolarFest.

Now I’ve got a reservation for a “dry” campsite, and my brother has an RV spot reserved. (Only three RV spots remained as of Friday.)

On the west side of the Oregon Cascades, Salem and Corvallis are the largest cities in the path of totality – and Expedia says at least 90 percent of the rooms in that vicinity are already booked. Eighty-five percent of the rooms in Portland are reportedly booked, for heaven’s sake!

The booking rates are similar for other cities in the eclipse zone, such as St. Joseph, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Columbia, S.C. The farther you get from the zone, the easier it is to find a room.

Bottom line? It’s not too early to make plans for what you’ll be doing a year from today. But make sure your plans are fluid: Eclipse experts say you should be prepared to drive as much as 100 miles on the big day, just in case the weather is cloudy where you’ve set up your base.

Will more rooms open up as the time draws closer? Could be. Some folks are making multiple reservations to cover their bases far in advance – just as they do for, say, graduation ceremonies at Washington State University and the University of Washington.

And for would-be campers, there’s another big opportunity coming up around Nov. 21: That’s when online reservations for campsites in Oregon state parks open up for the day of the eclipse. Fifteen state parks lie in the path of totality, and most of them will be taking reservations. The others will be first-come, first-served next summer.

P.S.: Don’t forget to snag some eclipse glasses before they run out. Totality is safe to view with the naked eye, but protective measures must always be taken during the eclipse’s partial phase.

More from GeekWire: