A backpacker celebrates near Idaho's Sawtooth National Forest. Visitors often backpack the popular Alice Toxaway Loop.
On August 21, 2017, people will crowd into parking lots, neighborhood parks, and other outdoor areas to watch the total solar eclipse make its way from one U.S. coast to the other. But some cosmic enthusiasts may be looking for a more adventurous eclipse-watching experience. If that sounds like you, why not take in the spectacle while perching high atop a mountain, paddling a waterway, or camping deep in the backcountry?
Wherever you watch it, be sure to wear special solar eclipse glasses to protect your eyes—regular sunglasses will not offer protection. Also be aware that many communities in the path of totality will be overwhelmed with visitors. Expect heavy traffic, and arrange a place to stay ahead of time, since most accommodations are already fully booked.
Backpack the Sawtooths
Portions of the Sawtooth National Forest fall within the path of totality, and getting out into the backcountry is a great way to escape trailhead crowds. Keep in mind the closer you are to the town of Stanley, the longer you’ll experience totality. The Alice Toxaway Loop is a classic Sawtooth backpacking route, and, being the most popular loop trail in the area, it’s likely to be extra crowded on eclipse day. Sawtooth Lake, Goat Lake, and Marshall Lake are just a few of the many other backcountry options near Stanley that should offer a good view of the solar spectacle. Wherever you decide to experience the eclipse, practice good bear safety and be prepared for creek crossings and snow.
Paddle Board in Charleston
Experience the eclipse out on one of Charleston’s waterways or marshes atop a paddle board. Glide along Folly Beach, where you can also surf or fish, or give the Intracoastal Waterway a try. If you’d rather leave the planning to the experts, local outfitters are leading special eclipse paddling trips to area hotspots.
Climb or Hike the Tetons
Grand Teton National Park is expecting it's busiest day in history on August 21. Since the frontcountry will be swarming with visitors, why not head out on the trails or into the high country for a slightly less crowded experience? Some peaks, like the Grand Teton, require full mountaineering gear, extensive skills and experience, multiple days, and a guide. But other hikes, like Taggart Lake, are far more accessible for the average hiker. Be sure to check backcountry conditions, get required permits, and ask rangers for updates before heading out—some routes may still require ice axes even in late August. If you have any doubts about your abilities to safely reach a high point, opt instead for one of the many other spots in the park to view the eclipse.
Ride the Katy Trail
At 240 miles long, Katy Trail State Park is the longest rail-trail in the U.S. and much of it is located in the path of totality. Walk, bike, or horseback ride along this route. While the park’s Total Eclipse of the Katy Bicycle Ride event is sold out, registration is still open for the Total Eclipse of the Trail two-hour horseback ride. Much of the trail is along the Missouri River, and 26 trailheads provide easy access.
Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park
North Carolina and Tennessee
North Carolina and Tennessee
The western part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is directly in the path of totality. Keep an eye out for the park’s famous black bears and hike the local trails or attend the informal ranger-led viewings at Cades Cove and Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The park’s ticketed 1,600-person event atop 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome is sold out, but there’s a chance tickets could become available due to cancellations—keep an eye on recreation.gov just in case.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Paddle the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Kentucky and Tennessee
Kentucky and Tennessee
Paddle out on the water for a view of the eclipse at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. With 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline and plenty of water trails, known as “blue ways,” you’ll have your pick of location—and maybe even a shot at some relative solitude. Try paddling the Kuttawa Landing Rookery Water Trail (an advanced route that takes over two hours to complete) to observe egrets, herons, and cormorants. There are plenty of other options as well, including the three-hour Fulton Bay Water Trail to look for osprey, great and snowy egrets, and little blue herons or the one-hour Honker Lake Water Trail to see wildflowers, birds, deer, and beavers.
Hike Tallulah Gorge State Park
At two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep, the Tallulah Gorge is famous for its stunning beauty. The geological feature even attracted famous tightrope walker Karl Wallenda to test his mettle high above the ground. Tallulah Gorge State Park has 20 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore, and it’s a prime spot to watch the eclipse. Spend your day hiking the three-mile round-trip North and South Rim Trails, stopping at scenic overlooks to take in views of the gorge and cascading waterfalls, or pick up a permit from the Interpretive Center to hike or mountain bike the challenging 10-mile Stoneplace Trail. But be sure your location has a clear view of the sun if you want to experience the full spectacle—being in the gorge itself may not offer the best view. Consider making your way to the park’s Solar Eclipse Festival at Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center to watch from a prime location.
Kristen Pope is a Jackson, Wyoming-based freelance writer and editor who writes about outdoor adventure, conservation, science, and travel. Read more of her work at www.kepope.com or follow her on Twitter.