Last minute, poorly planned solar eclipse plans, Northeast edition
March 31, 2024 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I wasn't expecting to be able to take off work for the day of the 2024 US total solar eclipse (April 8th), and thus haven't planned anything. I'm in central NJ and willing to drive up to about 4.5 hours to experience it. Where should I go?

I have zero idea what to expect, except I assume major cities are going to be gridlocked and accommodations sold out (Albany, Rochester, Burlington).

I'm driving from central New Jersey and thought I might try my luck with a small town along Rt 87 in New York (drive during the morning, plant myself in a park or on a quiet road somewhere, assume I'll be in crazy traffic trying to get home), though I have no idea if I'll just be sitting in traffic for 8 hours and will have to watch the eclipse from inside my car.

Definitely all of the cabins and airbnbs are sold out in the areas I've looked into in the Adirondacks, but I'm willing to stay somewhere (Sun to Tues, I guess?) if something opens up.

Anyone have any ideas that might be feasible? Local advice? If the answer is 'stay at home and just watch the partial eclipse' I would be sad but probably heed it.
posted by rachaelfaith to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like there are still reasonably priced hotel rooms in Albany. I'd probably plan to stay there. It's not that long of a drive from there to totality and I bet traffic on 87 will be worse than usual but not nightmare bad. My kids and I went down to South Carolina for the eclipse in 2017 and I don't remember traffic being particularly bad the day of the eclipse. I also had a quick look for hotel rooms in Plattsburgh and the few that were left were insanely expensive. The fact that prices in Albany are so different suggests it's far enough away that traffic there won't be too bad.
posted by Redstart at 6:30 PM on March 31

Best answer: Sounds like you already checked the eclipse track. A couple random suggestions:
  • Maybe consider going towards the Finger Lakes, since the drive is roughly the same (eg, Edison NJ to Cohocton NY is 4.5h, up from just over 4h on the I-87 route) but it's slightly less direct from NYC plus you aren't going through/around the metro to start your journey, but west.
  • Doublecheck hotel/etc bookings starting Saturday evening; that is the cancellation window and I bet some of those who booked early may be canceling their plans, or (like me) booked multiple hotel rooms to hedge against local/regional forecast differences (…sorry). Especially going by normal road trip rules, booking for the night-of will often uncover vacancies opening up the morning-of.

posted by cyrusdogstar at 6:43 PM on March 31

Best answer: If you can keep an eye on the weather reports, I would try to keep your options open for the best sky visibility as a priority. For me that means I would probably try to stay away from the Great Lakes or some other such environmental feature that would cause a lot of cloud cover. I would look at a website that predicts the long term weather over the week and narrow choices according to the predictions. Also, the time window of totality farther away from times when the sun is likely to heat up the atmosphere and occlude the view. If you can get to an open area away from buildings, that would also provide a better view. A lot of your chances of seeing it will be luck of the weather. NOAA and maybe NASA may have special websites devoted to this information as the event nears. Good luck!
posted by effluvia at 7:02 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The app HotelTonight is a useful source for last-minute hotel room openings; that's how I got a room at the edge of the totality with 24 hours notice before the 2017 eclipse.

Re traffic -- our experience in 2017 was that getting there wasn't so bad, but leaving -- when everyone in the path was heading home at the exact same time -- was very, very slow.
posted by escabeche at 7:08 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]

Even in central New Jersey, it won't be a total eclipse but it'll be a pretty significant one. So if you miss the path of totality because of traffic, you will not totally miss out.

Totality hits around or just after 3:15pm in the Western New York cities, and Trenton is about a 4 hour drive away from Syracuse which just makes it into the path. (the connection is mostly through I-81) If you left at 6am on Monday, you'd get to the right area likely with much time to spare. Would an interstate be completely backed up the whole way to Syracuse? Even at 10-11am? Upstate New York is very big, and there are many places for cars to accumulate. If you wanted to be super-safe, avoid I-81 and take county/state roads through the Finger Lakes region after Binghamton; you'll reach the totality path after 5-6 hours, but you need to be on the north side of the lakes because Watkins Glen / Ithaca are going to miss it.

Those more-local roads may be a big time saver on the way home rather than on the way there, tbh.

Take a friend and the driving will be less onerous.

There are great breweries and wineries all through the region, btw. But I'm not sure which ones will be open on a Monday!
posted by brianvan at 7:36 PM on March 31

I'm in the Finger Lakes and I'm planning to wait until next weekend to make any decisions. This is a notoriously cloudy area and if I may have to drive away from here even though we are close to totality here.
posted by mareli at 4:31 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the 2017 eclipse my daughter and I woke up at 4:00 and grabbed our bag of packed breakfast and lunch and headed out for a 3.5 hr drive to totality with 1.5 hours to spare in case of traffic or crowds. We wound up in an old cemetery which we had to ourselves, standing on a hill taking it all in. The best thing that we lucked in to was the sounds of nature going to sleep and waking up & the eeriness of the sounds of night birds and insects in the middle of the day.
We hit traffic on the way back but didn't care, it was well worth it.
posted by readery at 5:58 AM on April 1 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I am planning to be in Old Forge, NY for the totality. Depending on where in Central Jersey you are, it can be around a 5 hour drive, so just slightly above your specifications. I am pretty sure there are still AirBnBs available there and in the immediate surrounds, as a friend considering meeting up with us was looking into it literally yesterday. As of right now, so a week out, the weather prognosis for there is auspicious (knock on all the wood upstate).
posted by virve at 8:52 PM on April 1

Best answer: It's a bit like a big football game, where there is traffic before the event but it is a little more dispersed as people gradually arrive in the hours leading up to start time.

But once it is over, everybody jumps in their car and heads for the exit. All at once.

So if you can wait even 2-3 hours you'll find the worst of traffic has likely cleared. If you can wait 4-6 hours traffic will likely be near normal.

Last time we waited and just watched the traffic - leaving the next morning - but a bunch of relatives had to be back so they braved the traffic crunch. They reported that both main freeways and every back road route they could think of were packed to the gills and basically at a standstill for hours.

Everybody eventually got there - it's just a big crunch for a while. Make sure you have food, water, plenty of gas in the tank, etc.
posted by flug at 6:15 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: readery, that's amazing. A few of the spots I bookmarked were cemeteries because I figured probably no one else would be there! I'm glad it worked out for you.

After hearing the consistent stories about how the traffic driving back was the bigger problem, I decided to skip the plan to book Sunday into Monday or attempt to drive north and back in a day (I really dislike sitting in traffic), and instead found a spot not far from Old Forge (thanks, virve!) that we'll drive into early on Monday morning, stay overnight, and leave Tuesday morning when hopefully the traffic is fully gone.

I appreciate everyone's input and hope that everyone traveling for or viewing the event has a great experience :)
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:10 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

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