Carbondale, Illinois: The Great American Eclipse Crossroads
Just six and a half years later, on April 8, 2024, Carbondale will be the home of another total solar eclipse, the only point on the planet to host two solar eclipses in less than seven years. There has not been a total solar eclipse viewable from the continental United States since 1979.
Carbondale has been determined to be such an ideal viewing point for the 2017 eclipse that NASA has selected Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as their point of observation and study. This is a once in a lifetime viewing opportunity for millions of Americans. For those of us fortunate enough to be in Southern Illinois on these two dates, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity – twice.
If you want to join us, and we hope you do, there are a few things you should consider. We also want to share a few tips for enjoying Southern Illinois.
Make plans early! For campers and non-campers alike, most locations only take reservations twelve months in advance. There are some cabins and campgrounds that will let you book earlier. If you are camping,stay at Giant City State Park, Little Grassy Lake Campground & Marina, Devil's Kitchen Lake Campground or Crab Orchard Lake Campground within the National Wildlife Refuge, or Blue Heron Marina & Campground. Giant City Lodge offers cabins as well as the lodge that was built in the 1930s by the CCC, and there are many other cabins that would be close to the eclipse viewing area. If you need a hotel room, you will want to book in Carbondale or further away in Marion.
We are a community of 26,000 and expect over 50,000 visitors in town for this event. You will want to minimize travel time as it might be difficult to travel efficiently. To compound the challenge, August 21, 2017 is the scheduled first day of classes at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Eclipse chasers will be racing parents for our limited hotel rooms.
Be prepared for a crowd. We mentioned 50,000 visitors above. This is how many visitors Carbondale and SIU are expecting to host. The entire region could have 100,000 or more visitors as total solar eclipses are a global draw.
Where you view depends on largely on how you want to spend the day. For those that want a celebration, Carbondale is closing north US 51, known as “The Strip”, famous for hosting SIU’s Halloween in the 1980’s and a Jason Isbell concert last year. Planners hope “The Strip” will be home to a multi-day festival with music, food and drinks, and special events. Plans are also under way to provide shuttle services to "The Strip" for these events. If you are a serious observer, you may want to head to the SIU campus. They are planning an Astronomy Expo, an Art and Craft Fair, as well as a special space set aside for serious eclipse chasers.
Southern Illinois in August is hot. The average high in Carbondale in August is 87 degrees. It’s not uncommon to see high 90’s or even 100 degree days. Our humidity in the summer is high, making the hot days uncomfortable. Wherever you decide to view, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water and protection from the sun. Speaking of the sun, you have a good chance of seeing it on this August day as our average forecast for late August is sunny and dry.
What if it’s cloudy? There is a 100% chance of the eclipse taking place on August 21, 2017. Unfortunately no one can assure sunshine over a year in advance. Meteorologists in the area think there is a high likelihood of having clear weather here on that day, but we do get over three inches of rain each August. Serious eclipse chasers will be on the move in the days leading up to the event. Those of us that are planners will likely take our chances by setting up our base camp in a good location and hope the weather corporates.
Enjoy the stay. We anticipate most eclipse chasers to arrive a couple days in advance. This is a good plan. A better plan is to plan to also stay a few days after to see the best of our region.
Within a short drive of Carbondale, we have award-winning wineries, breweries, and a distillery along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Make sure to stop at our favorites such as Scratch Brewing for unique beers, Blue Sky’s championship wines, Grand Rivers award-winning spirits (including the unreleased but wonderful True Kinship Bourbon), and fun for the whole family at Walker’s Bluff Winery.
We mentioned Giant City State Park, which has great hiking opportunities, but we also have wonderful and abundant hiking opportunities in the Shawnee National Forest such as Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and Panther Den Wilderness, Cache River State Natural Area, Ferne Clyffe State Park, and Trail of Tears State Forest.
Our lakes are beautiful and refreshing on a hot day in August. Kincaid Lake is a destination for boating and Muskie fishing and Cedar Creek Lake is ideal for swimming, canoeing and kayaking. You can buy a pass or use your National Parks Pass to access Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge and we enjoy taking our SUPs out on the refuge lakes of Little Grassy and Devil's Kitchen. Rend Lake is a little further from the eclipse action, but is also a destination for water activities.
There are other outdoor activities to do in southern Illinois. You can bike the Tunnel Hill Trail, a rails to trails project running 45 miles, or golf at Hickory Ridge Golf Course or Crab Orchard Golf Club, or walk the many Start! Walking paths around the area.
Being a university town, Carbondale has great local dining. Try the vegetarian Longbranch Café, Brazilian dishes at Sabor de Mel, burgers at Fat Patties, gyros at El Greco, Indian cuisine at Reema's, or local favorite Midland Inn. Pizza places are abundant in this college town and you should see if the best pizza comes from Pagliai’s Pizza, Quatro's Pizza, or Italian Village. Just to the west of Carbondale is Murphysboro, the barbecue capital of Illinois and home of barbecue champions 17th Street and equally amazing Pat’s BBQ.
There are a lot of resources where you are learn more. Take a look at:
SIU Eclipse Planning
Great American Eclipse
Follow us on Facebook, Instragram, and Twitter and stay tuned to cricketcamping.com to find out more about the eclipse and to see how we do Cricket Camping.
Shane and Jessica
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