It’s Not Too Late To Plan A Trip To See The Eclipse!!!

Filed Under: Travel

By now you’ve probably heard that there’s going to be a solar eclipse next Monday. It’s kind of a big deal. But while all of the continental US will have a partial solar eclipse, only those within a 70-mile band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will get the real deal. We’re talking day turning into night, fiery coronas, cats cuddling with dogs in fear that the end of the world is upon us.

Seriously, I think it’s going to be pretty cool. But only if you’re within the band of totality! Trust me, I’ve watched a partial solar eclipse back in high school and it was kind of boring, even for a nerd like me.

So you might be thinking, that’s great and all but it’s too late. I should have planned this trip six months ago. My neighbor just told me how he heard that the hotels are booked solid, the rental cars are sold out, and the flights are crazy expensive. I live in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix, or [insert your city here] and it’s just too far to drive. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late. You can still do this. In fact, there are some amazingly good options available and I’m going to tell you how to do it.

Now let’s be clear, this won’t be easy.

It’s not going to be like flying Lufthansa in first class or staying in the Park Hyatt Sydney, but it’ll at least get you into position to have a chance at seeing what may be one of the greatest shows on earth.

The cheapest last minute trip to see the total solar eclipse

The key to making this happen without breaking the bank is to forget flying into the path of totality. I mean, if you have $2000 to drop on a plane ticket alone, stop reading now and just go book a ticket to Nashville for first thing Monday morning — you can even watch the total eclipse without leaving the airport!

I wouldn’t think about flying somewhere close to the path of totality either. Portland, Boise, and St. Louis are each a short distance away, but they aren’t cheap, and then you’re going to need a rental car. Earlier this week, the only cars I saw in Portland were about $1500 per day. I can only imagine what Uber’s surge pricing will look like on Monday morning in Portland.

So here’s what you should do instead.

  • Fly to Denver
  • Rent a car
  • Drive about 3 hours into the path of totality
  • Camp, Airbnb, or hell, sleep in your car for the night
  • Watch the eclipse
  • Drive back to Denver
  • Fly home

Sounds easy right? Yeah, kind-of, sort-of. Let’s talk about it.

Why fly to Denver when Colorado isn’t even in the path of totality?

Well first, that’s kind of the point. We want to fly to somewhere that is only somewhat — not completely — caught up in eclipse mania.

But what we really want is infrastructure. We want a big city that has the capacity for a crowd. Lots of flights. Lots of rental cars. Lots of hotels. That way demand still won’t have exceeded supply and prices won’t be through the roof.

That’s Denver.

Denver International Airport

Denver is a major hub for air travel

Frontier, United, and to some extent Southwest, all have hubs at Denver. It’s sort of the crossroads of America with a ton of flights everyday. But the best part is that Denver is somewhat ground zero in the battle for low cost carrier supremacy as both Frontier — with their hub — and Spirit both have big operations there.

They are the two biggest low cost carriers in the US, and for all their warts, their fares pretty much never go bonkers. Even the legacies like United, American, and Delta still have reasonable ticket prices.

We’re talking Los Angeles to Denver for $213. Minneapolis for $220. Dallas at $150. New York City at $430. These are for Saturday / Sunday to Tuesday, round trip, all-in. I suggest using Google Flights to take a look at your options.

Here’s Chicago to Denver for $122 round-trip on Spirit which is phenomenal!

Chicago to Denver on Spirit for the eclipse at just $122 per person

Denver is also a major city, albeit in the middle of nowhere.

That means it has plenty of tourist infrastructure. There are still a good number of rental cars available, and the prices are just high, not ridiculous.

2-day car rental from Sunday to Tuesday in Denver for about $300

If you get there a day early, there are plenty of hotels with mostly normal pricing. Because, keep in mind, you are still three hours away from the action. 

Right, so I have to drive three hours?

Well, yes. And it might actually be four.

But the upside of being further from the action is that you have some choices. Most folks in Denver are probably going to head due north up I-25 to Wyoming. That’s because Wyoming has been promoting the hell out of their eclipse viewing opportunities. And also because people in Denver like to go to Wyoming. They associate Wyoming with Yellowstone and the Tetons, both of which are fun places to play both in the summer and the winter.

But guess what? Nobody in Colorado would be caught dead taking a vacation to Nebraska. You just don’t do that. 

So, of course, that’s exactly where you should go to escape the crowds and watch the eclipse. Thanks to the swooping arc of the eclipse, you won’t have to drive much more to get to the path of totality in Nebraska than you would in Wyoming.

From Denver, you can get to the path of totality by going to Wyoming or Nebraska

I mean, if you’ve ever flown into Denver International Airport, it seemed like you were halfway there already, right

You just need to jump on I-76 and take it until it terminates into I-80 shortly after crossing the state line. (Only to magically reappear 1200 miles later in Ohio, but whatever.) It’ll take you directly to the path of totality in about three and some odd hours.

So while everyone else zigs to Wyoming — where the population of the state is expected to double this weekend — you’ll zag to Nebraska.

Nebraska might be the best spot for watching the eclipse

Nebraska has some other things going for it too. Although still too early to bank on, the current weather forecast rates western Nebraska as having as good a chance at favorable weather as anywhere along the path of totality. Including Wyoming, which may suffer from a plume of monsoonal moisture that could potentially cause partly to mostly cloudy conditions across much of Wyoming. (Trust me, I read this stuff.)

Eclipse forecast from the Capital Weather Gang / Washington Post

Aside from smaller crowds, Nebraska also benefits from having I-80 run through the path of totality for over 225 miles between North Platte and Lincoln.

I’m not suggesting you try to drag race the shadow of the sun — it moves as fast as 2300 miles per hour after all — but if clouds do show up on Monday morning, you’ll have a high capacity highway available to change positions.

True, there could still be a traffic jam as others get the same idea, but if it’s me, I’d rather be stuck in traffic in the path of totality than outside looking in.

The path of totality follows I-80 for over 200 miles in Nebraska

What about lodging?

Yep, lodging is the tricky part. There just aren’t that many hotels in western Nebraska to start with, and as much as I think there will be fewer crowds there than elsewhere, I’m certainly not the first one to realize this. So you can expect everything to be booked up.

My suggestion would be to try Airbnb where I’ve seen people renting rooms and such for a couple hundred per night. Honestly, if it were me and I was being cheap, I’d probably just pull into a rest area and sleep in the car. Or pick up a sleeping bag at Walmart on the way and then find someone on HipCamp that will let you camp in their front yard for $50.

Bottom line

It’s not too late to get yourself in position to see the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017. Settling for a partial solar eclipse is like having the Super Bowl come to your town and then watching the game from the parking lot. 

If you bring along a few friends and split the car rental, I think you can do this for a few hundred bucks per person. These are the crazy adventures you’ll tell your grandkids about some day.

  1. We’re flying to Helena from Burbank, staying with friends, and driving south to see it. It’s an adventure!

  2. Flying from MDT-MYR ($120 round-trip on Allegiant), then drive for 1.5 hours south to experience this with my kids. Can’t wait!

  3. Driving to the path (about 4-5h on a normal day) and staying in a state park 2-bedroom cottage for $350/night. Could be worse, phew!

  4. Fly to SLC, drive up to Idaho Falls (218 miles north, all I-15) and then drive back down afterward. As for me, I’ll be watching a 90% eclipse through my welding hood, which is good enough for me! And hotel rooms will be MUCH cheaper in SLC than in the path of the storm!

  5. I live in Jacksonville, Florida and we are getting 91% of the eclipse. I’m a teen in middle school (8th) and we get out of school when it happens. Because of it we aren’t allowed to look at it (for safety) and were getting dismissed late. Great. Now I’m missing an amazing thing and have to spend extra time in school:(!
    Atleast it will be an excused absence on Monday! 🙂

  6. Ha , I’m in Oakland and it seems everyone I know is all of a sudden making last minute plans to drive up to Oregon. I hope they have a great time but I think the main thing they will be seeing is hours and hours of traffic! We went to Sudan earlier in the year and many people thought we were mad but driving for 10 plus hours along with half the state sounds like madness to me ;).

  7. Last fall, we booked travel to Oregon and Kentucky. We live in Pittsburgh. Hubby has had his glasses and decoder ring since before Thanksgiving.

    I am waiting for Hubby to decide which plans to keep and which to cancel. Oregon will have less cloud cover, but he’s heard the traffic will be worse than driving from Pgh to Kentucky.

    The word from people inside the path is to have a full tank of gas and pack food/water. We might be sitting is some traffic before AND after.

    Either Woodburn, OR or Bowling Green, KY will have a room available for Sunday night inside the path of the totality sometime tomorrow when Hubby makes up his mind. 😉

  8. Dee — Thanks for sharing your strategy. We actually just switched to our backup option today ourselves!

    I keep telling people that there is going to be a lot of fluidity in the lodging markets in the final days as people cancel off their alternative options.

  9. you all are silly! Fly into St. Louis, and drive 20 minutes! Or in my case, wake up, leave about 10 for the wineries in Augusta, drink wine and cheese and see the sun go away. Missouri is the Show Me state after all, and we’ll be more than happy to show you all a great eclipse.

    Or for those of you too lazy to drive, fly into either Kansas City or Nashville, walk outside the terminal, see the eclipse, then get back on the airplane.

  10. Jacki — Please show me a cheap ticket to Nashville from ANYWHERE that is still available for purchase. Or Kansas City.

  11. @ Dee — We’re going to Oregon (in-laws are in the path), and either the state will be a complete cluster, or deserted from all the fear-mongering. But gas and water is a particularly good idea around Portland — those freeways can bottleneck during even minor weather events, and I wouldn’t expect them to handle an influx well.

  12. Travis, I’m so excited that you’re so excited about this. Loving the posts. I’m skipping grad school and driving up to Nashville for it. Chaos is expected, and it’s going to be so epic. Really wishing that I could be out in the backcountry though. Enjoy and thanks for all the updates!

  13. I live in Denver, and our local news stations are approximating 300-500 thousand people to be on I-76, I-80, or I-25. Also, I think a lot of people are still going to be going to Nebraska, and I think every single rest stop will be full. There is going to be so many people flooding into Nebraksa and Wyoming that they might not have enough food, gas, etc.

  14. Options aplenty for flights and lodging and vehicles. In all cases booking with points or miles is the better option. AA flights @ 15,000 BA miles or $750. Hertz rentals @ 650 points or $150. IHG lodging @ 20,000 points or $200. Oddly enough I am traveling from Kansas City to Charlotte to visit the relatives over the weekend. The weather is predicted to be better in Charlotte so a good thing.

  15. I live in Columbia MO which is directly in the path but I will be in the UK next week. Just checked and every hotel in my city is sold out. Tempting to think about renting out my house since I will not be there but not worth the hassle. I read that the eclipse will happen again in 7 years with a different path but still over Illinois. Guess I will have to wait till the next one 🙁

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