Lonely Planet Writer

Discover last minute places still available to camp and see the Great American Eclipse

It took just over an hour for 1018 extra camping sites in Oregon to be reserved for the night of 21 August, 2017, when the moon will pass in front of the sun and darkness will descend over daylight, for the first time since 1979.

Burning campfire in remote field, Painted Hills, Oregon, United States
Oregon is one of the spots where travellers can see the total solar eclipse in 2017. Image by Adam Hester / Getty Images

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department offered additional spots to help accommodate the flood of travelers who will converge on the line of sight, which streaks across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Judging by how quickly these spots were scooped up, many people are still looking for places to stay. Another full solar eclipse will not happen again until 2024.

If you’re traveling to view the eclipse, you’ll need to plan in advance. Traditional lodging in most optimal places has been booked for years, but camping for the eclipse is an approach that offers last minute options in beautiful settings.

National Forests are lands protected by the federal government, and there are 154 of them in the United States. Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in National Forests, and they operate on a first-come-first-served basis. “Dispersed camping” means there are no facilities, so be prepared to rough it. You can find clearings for camping by following forest access roads, and you must be 100 feet away from the road once you pitch your tent. You’ll usually find obvious clearings where savvy campers have spent their nights in the past. Local Bureaus of Land Management offices can advise on where to find those spots.

A hiker admires the view across Hells Canyon from her campsite on a backpacking trip.
A hiker admires the view across Hells Canyon from her campsite on a backpacking trip. Image by ©Danny Warren/Getty Images

Freecampsites.net is another helpful resource for finding camping options in National Forests, along with lesser-known, free and cheap campgrounds.

The shadow will touch land on the Oregon coast first. But coastal clouds could prove problematic. Go inland instead, to Madras, Oregon. The Ochoco National Forest is nearby, where you can explore dispersed camping options.

The John Day Fossil Beds in Eastern Oregon will be another prime viewing area, but there is no camping or lodging allowed within the park. Superintendent Shelley Hall suggests checking the websites for Grant and Wheeler counties, where some local ranchers are offering up private land for camping. “We’re expecting the biggest crowds we’ve ever seen,” she notes. The Painted Hills (located within the fossil beds) with their colorful bands of prehistoric earth, will provide visitors with unique geography to photograph as the eclipse darkness falls.

Deep blue twilight skies with fading stars appear above rugged Grand Teton and the famous John Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming will be a spot where people can see the Great American Eclipse. Image by Mike Berenson / Colorado Captures / Getty Images

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming can view the eclipse over the jagged spires of the Teton range. Backcountry camping passes, which allow visitors to into the park on paths not accessible by vehicles, will be made available on August 20th, for those who arrive early enough to snag them. Backpacking will get you away from the crowds, but you’ll also be on foot. So your options for moving quickly if clouds don’t cooperate are limited.

Sky and Telescope Marketplace has a listing of private properties that are being made available for viewing, across the country. These include yards for pitching a tent and rooms in people’s homes.

Wherever you go to view the full eclipse on 21 August, flexibility is key in avoiding cloud coverage. Position yourself near a highway system if possible, and watch the weather carefully on the morning of the event.