Excitement is already mounting for the April 2024 total solar eclipse. But that’s nearly a year from now and, for astronomy aficionados who don’t want to wait that long for the next celestial spectacle, there’s another skyward phenomenon worth planning a trip around.
On October 14, 2023, the moon will partially block the sun’s light in an annular eclipse, creating a dazzling “ring of fire” that will be visible from much of the Western Hemisphere. This phenomenon won’t plunge parts of North America into total darkness like the 2024 total eclipse will, but it’s still worth traveling to see, according to Rick Fienberg, who leads the American Astronomical Society’s solar eclipse task force.
“If you just sit around waiting for an annular solar eclipse to come to you, you might wait hundreds of years,” he says. “Those who live in or have easy access to the path of the October 14, 2023, annular solar eclipse are quite lucky.”
Though the 2024 total solar eclipse is getting most of the attention, that attention also means big crowds and expensive—or, worse, sold-out—lodging options in the path of totality. Because there’s less hype around the October annular eclipse, it’s ideal for a more low-key, low-stress astro vacation. Its path will also cross directly over six U.S. national parks, plus dozens of other public lands, meaning you can easily fill the rest of your itinerary with hikes, bike rides, camping, stargazing, and other rejuvenating nature-focused adventures.
Here’s what to know about the October partial eclipse—and how best to experience it.
What is an annular solar eclipse?
The October 2023 event is what’s known as an annular solar eclipse, according to NASA. Because the moon will be at its farthest point from Earth at the time of the eclipse, it will appear smaller than the sun to our eyes and, thus, won’t fully obscure its rays. Instead, when all three celestial bodies align, the moon will block most of the center of the sun, leaving only a thin ring of light visible around the edge. The term annular solar eclipse derives from the Latin word annulus, which means “little ring.”
Annular solar eclipses are special events: During the 21st century, 72 have been or will be visible from Earth, compared to 68 total eclipses, per NASA. This will be the last annular eclipse visible from the United States until 2039, when another will pass over Alaska.
Where will the 2023 annular solar eclipse be visible?
The October annular eclipse will be visible from swaths of North, Central, and South America. But skywatchers in some locations will be able to see it better than others—notably, those in the Western half of the United States will have the best views. Starting a little after 9 a.m. Pacific Time, the “ring of fire” will be visible from southwestern Oregon, followed by northeastern Nevada, south-central Utah, central New Mexico, and west-central Texas. By roughly noon Central Time, its path will be over the Gulf of Mexico.
Several U.S. national parks are situated squarely within this 125-mile-wide route, including Crater Lake National Park, Great Basin National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. Dozens of other national parks are just outside the “ring of fire” path and will experience between 70 and 90 percent obscuration, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, and Zion. The eclipse’s path will also pass over many national monuments, national recreation areas, national historic parks, and other public lands.
With cooler temperatures and kids back in school, October is a great time to visit national parks in the West, which can be hot and crowded during the summer. Because they’re remote and low on light pollution, they’re also ideal for stargazing, the perfect nighttime complement to daytime eclipse viewing. Zion National Park, for instance, became a certified International Dark Sky Park in 2021 and encourages travelers to stay up late or get up early to marvel at the Milky Way. Just outside the park, professional astronomers with tour company Stargazing Zion run nightly programs covering everything from constellations to black holes. And the newly opened glamping resort Open Sky, Zion has luxury canvas tents with glass-paned ceilings designed for stargazing from bed.
“Public lands are outstanding places to experience natural phenomena like the eclipse,” says Sara Otto, a spokesperson for the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office. She notes that Greater Zion is home to not just Zion National Park, but also four state parks and thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management and National Forest land, in addition to local parks. “So everyone can really get out and find a unique space that works best for them.”
National parks in the annular eclipse path
- Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
- Great Basin National Park, Nevada
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Where to go for the annular eclipse
So far, hotels and campgrounds in many of these places aren’t experiencing a surge of bookings around the annular eclipse, which means there’s still time to snag lodging. Some are hoping to attract astro tourists by offering specials and packages: Travelers visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah and northern Arizona, for example, can enjoy discounts on houseboats or book a two-night stay at Lake Powell Resort that includes a “ring of fire” boat tour.
Other destinations are planning big, blowout events. If you’re looking for a more festive eclipse environment, head to Klamath Falls, Oregon, for EclipseFest23. The five-day event (October 10–15) includes camping, vendors, food and drink, and a 1990s throwback performance by Smash Mouth. (No word yet on whether they’ll play “Walkin’ on the Sun,” but given the occasion, it seems highly likely.) Four Sisters Ranch in Utopia, Texas—about 90 minutes west of San Antonio—is also hosting a camping-centric festival with live music called Eclipse Utopia (October 13–14). Joshua Tree National Park’s annual dark sky festival (October 13–14) will also overlap with the eclipse.