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2017 Eclipse Blog / FAQ

How many states does the total eclipse touch?


Twelve – I mean, fourteen – I mean, essentially 12; realistically 12 – but no – REALLY 14!

…or is it…?  Hmmm…..  Let’s see –

The path of totality for the 2017 eclipse passes over the continental USA from coast to coast – the first time this has happened since 1918!


In doing so, the path touches 14 states – though many sources will tell you that it is only 12 states!  How can this be?  For something as accurately predicted as a total eclipse, is it possible to completely miss two entire states?  What’s going on here?

Looking at the map above, as well as the great maps hosted by Xavier Jubier and Michael Zeiler, You can easily see that the path cuts through major portions of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina.  You can also see that it skims over the NE corners of Georgia and Kansas, and a bit of the western tip of North Carolina.  And those are the 12 “obvious” states that will see totality.  Easy enough.

(From here on, we’re going to use screen shots taken from Xavier Jubier’s great Interactive Google map.)

If you look closely, you’ll see that the path misses the NE corner of Colorado:

COMap © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

and it also misses the far SW tip of Indiana:

INMap © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier


And if you look REALLY closely, you’ll see that the path just barely misses the SW corner of South Dakota (by only about 10 miles or so!):

SDMap © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

That’s pretty close indeed, but if you want to say that you saw totality, you have to be IN THE PATH.  And “not in the path” means…NOT in the path.

But now, look at Montana and Iowa.  The path looks like it misses them, too – until you zoom in – WAY in!

Here is Iowa.  At first glance, it looks like the Hawkeye State misses out on the show completely:

IowaMap © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier


But let’s take a closer look at that far southwestern corner of the state:

IA1Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

We’re looking at that itty bitty little triangle-shaped slice, just west of Hamburg and northwest of that round piece of Nebraska that sticks itself into Missouri (thanks to some old meanderings of the Mizzou River!).

Here it is a little closer up, with the town of Hamburg included for reference:

Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

We’re looking at the little triangle-shaped piece of Iowa that’s bounded by the Missouri River on the west, the Missouri border on the South, and the Red line to the North (that’s the northern limit of the path). No more than 450 ACRES of Iowa is included in the path of totality!

Let’s zoom in a little more:

Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

Now we see that if a person wanted to view the eclipse from this small spot of Hawkeye territory, there would be a way to do it.  On the path edge itself (the red line), the duration of totality is not much, but the edge effects are spectacular (so say all the eclipse enthusiasts who situate themselves at the path’s edge for just this reason).  If you were on that N-S road labeled “J64” in Iowa and “V” in Missouri, you could head west along the border (there is a road there) – to a little spot on that small tributary of the Missouri River – and you’d get about 30 seconds of totality plus a lot of cool edge effects.  Maybe not such a bad deal – though if you’re a first-timer, you may not wish to sacrifice the totality time you’re giving up by not being closer to centerline.  It’s your call!

Does anyone want to view the eclipse from there?  If so, please let us know at!  We’ll be interested to hear of your experience, and host your photographs and stories on our Eclipse Memories page (coming soon!).

We’ll also want to let the people know, who live in that farmhouse just North of the path on J64.  They’re probably pretty upset that we just told the world about an eclipse coming – literally – to their back yard!

But at least there are people living near here, and there is a road.  Montana doesn’t get that lucky…!

The path of totality appears to barely miss Montana as well.  But since you’ve read this far, you now surely must know better than that!

MontMap © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

I swear, Montana’s western border has always looked to me like a downward-gazing face; so let’s take a closer look at that little piece of the “beard” of Big Sky Country:

MT1Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

See the little piece of Montana just east of Nicholia ID, that sticks itself just barely south of the red line (the path limit)?  That’s where we’re headed next.  Let’s take a closer look:

MT2Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

It’s the round-bottom piece of land just northwest of where Scott Peak is marked.  Now we see that this piece of Montana is pretty respectable – it’s about 6 square miles! But how accessible is it?


MT3Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

Not very.  Here’s the story, for any intrepid eclipse chasers who might like to give this one a shot:

The border of MT and ID at this location follows the ridge line of a string of very tall mountains.  The green area in the middle is a basin that is surrounded by those mountains, and the farther south you get (closing in on Italian Peak), the more totality you get.  You can get up to 45 seconds of totality if you position yourself correctly – a VERY respectable duration!  But how do you get there?

Well, from the Idaho side, there is a little road that gets you with a mile of so of the cliff base – but you will need to be a very skilled mountain climber to get up to the summit and be able to say you are in Montana.  There might be a relatively eas(“ier”) route to the top, but that’s one you’ll have to scout out for yourself, if you’re so inclined!

The best bet might be to get into that basin from the Montana side.  Google Earth shows a little road that follows Nicholia Creek.  It ends about 5 miles from the basin, but an ATV or suitable off-road vehicle (or a nice hike) should get you into good position.  Be sure to use GPS if you try this, so you can be sure of being in the path!

[And of course, be sure to do all your due diligence if you’re going to attempt any of this!  It’s solely your responsibility to ensure you have the equipment, tools, endurance, experience, backup plans and training that’s required for any off-road experiences you decide to embark on.]

But what an experience it would be to observe from here!  In the basin, the horizon would be filled with the mountains, and the eclipsed Sun would be hanging above them.  On the ridge line itself, the view across the Idaho plain would be magnificent.

And, there’d be an eclipse to go along with it!  😀

Please also note [this information comes straight from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF]:

We have been advised that the Nicholia creek area, south of the trailhead, is designated as a “Recommended Wilderness Area” by the Forest Service, and so motorized vehicles and also mountain bikes are prohibited.

It is possible to park at the Nicholia Creek trailhead or the Deadman Lake trailhead and hike into the Italian peak basin. Also note that the drive into the trailhead is long and requires a 4WD vehicle with good clearance. Definitely off the beaten path.

Does anyone want to view the eclipse from here?  If so, please let us know at!  We’ll be interested to hear of your experience, and host your photographs and stories on our Eclipse Memories page (coming soon!).

And by the way, in the picture just above, do you see over to the left (just east of the labels “MONTANA” and “IDAHO”), where the Montana-Idaho border looks like it dips down and just barely touches the red line in a second spot?  Well, technically it does!  Here’s a REAL close-up:

MT4Map © 2017 Google and © 2006-2017 Xavier Jubier

To be fair, this “piece” of Montana only sticks into the path about 15 yards or so.  That’s smaller than the uncertainty I have in the plotting of the border by Google Earth, so I can’t really say if I trust this or not.  But if true, it would make Montana the only state in the USA where totality touched its territory, then left it completely, then touched it again.  And THAT would be cool!

So, yeah – 14 states it is!

…and as always, we’ll see YOU – in the shadow!


25 Responses to “How many states does the total eclipse touch?”

  1. Xavier says:

    Dan, well narrated.
    Taking into account the local terrain elevation is key to any location, yet it doesn’t change the fact that both Montana and Iowa do get to witness totality in 2017:

    • Admin says:

      Thanks, Xavier! Folks, Xavier is one of the world’s leading eclipse calculation experts. If it’s on his page, you can take it to the bank. His endorsement is very thankfully received.


  2. >…though many sources will tell you that it is only 12 states!
    >How can this be?
    It can be becase they simply are wrong. As the name of Xavier’s web page “unequivocal totality” conveys, there is no question about this. Are there indeed “totality deniers” as well as climate deniers? The FACT that the path of totality of TSE 2017 touches 14 states is not debatable. This is just as assured as the fact that in its annual accross course through the stellar background the Sun (at the current epoch) traverses through 13 constellations. The ‘fact’ that many people here will ALSO say 12 does not make that correct either! Is ’12’ a universal answer for incorrect estimates? Maybe we should ask a bakers dozen of eclipse experts.

    -Glenn Schneider

    • Admin says:

      And folks, for the sake of those who don’t know – Glenn is a VETERAN of 33 total eclipses! #1 in the world! He should know… 🙂


    • Evan Zucker says:

      “Totality denier”! That’s a new one for me!

      A friend of mine lives in Nebraska and actually knows the people in that farmhouse just north of the totality path on J64. I told him to let them know that they’ll need to walk a very short distance south in order to see totality.

  3. David Dunham says:

    I think that 2nd spot in Montana will not have totality, especially if the line you plot is for sea level, rather than the high elevation of the site, which would move the line south by a few hundred feet. And, of course, the northern limit isn’t perfectly sharp since the Sun’s edge isn’t perfectly sharp, so for sure, there will be one (or probably two, one disappearing and the other reappearing) beads visible there at central eclipse, the only question being, about how bright will they be? That’s what IOTA wants to try to find out, with our Eclipse Edge Determination Experiment – see the web site about that. Besides Minden, NE, we’ll be organizing similar observations in Kansas City, and probably also in St. Louis, and hopefully some other cities and towns that straddle the totality northern and southern limits.


  4. Kurt Manship says:

    I am very interested in climbing Italian Peak from the Idaho side for the eclipse — I’m from the area and experienced in mountain climbing. I would see a total eclipse from the Continental Divide (how many people could say that?) and from BOTH Montana (again, along with only a very tiny number of others) and Idaho.

    But since it would be my first, and possibly only, total solar eclipse, I wonder if I would get more satisfaction traveling to a point where totality will last longer. Tough decision.

    • Admin says:

      Hi Kurt – Please see the response we went you by email! If you do this, please be sure to share your pictures and story with us for our memories page!


      • Jared says:

        I’m in the same position as Kurt Manship. I live in Montana and have scoped out the hike to reach the viewing area from the Montana side, but it’s also my first eclipse and wonder if the time spent hiking in would best be used driving further south to get a longer duration of totality…

        • Admin says:

          Hi Jared –

          Can’t advise you as to where to go – that needs to be your decision. I believe it is absolute toss-up, getting more totality vs. being one of the VERY VERY few people to see the 2017 eclipse from Montana, with the view and experience you would have. It might be the only time I’d really recommend to a 1st-timer to sacrifice some totality for that kind of story. But in the end, it is indeed your choice!


          • Scott Hicks says:

            I’ll just share my observation that state borders are nothing more than lines on a map — arbitrary and artificial constructs (well, except perhaps when they follow a natural geographic feature like a river). That being said, I still found this website to be quite informative and enthusiastic about viewing options for different locales. Well done! See you in the shadow I will.

  5. Sebastian says:

    Great Stuff !

    I’d also love to know along with everyone, Where the longest duration of totality will be !?!? im super excited.

    • Admin says:

      Hi Sebastian –

      Greatest duration is in Southern IL – but the truth is, anywhere in the path that is clear will be a good spot to be in on eclipse day!


  6. Mike says:

    My family is headed to the path of totality from Vancouver down to Oregon – loved reading your story and I like the frankness: “Not in the path is NOT IN THE PATH” 🙂

  7. john mullen says:

    Please help me!!! the blue line is the center of totality correct? i am planning on going to rexburg idaho from helena montana will i be in totality? also what time should i be there? thanks much sincerely john g.mullen

  8. bob c says:

    I will be view totality in iowa. i live in hamburg so it wont be far to go thanks to your great website

  9. Karen says:

    How much viewing is Washington able to claim, and what time does the sun rise on that day?(in Washington)

  10. Lakie Clower says:

    I have a question. How can the moon travel across the usa from the west to the east since we know the moon travels from east to west. This is strange and I do not understand how its possible to cross paths in this manner. Can you please explain this to me.

    • Admin says:

      This was explained in an earlier blog thread that is since closed. The Moon does NOT travel from east to west – it only appears that way because the Earth rotates and makes it APPEAR that the Moon is moving that way. In actuality, you saw on eclipse day the Moon’s movement from West to East across the face of the Sun. THIS was the Moon moving in its orbit around the Earth.

      Please find that blog post and see the NASA animations that show this very clearly. We saw that this was indeed the case on eclipse day!

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