Do you know what you’ll be doing on April 8, 2024? Perhaps a border jaunt to Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass? A long weekend in Waco that doesn’t involve Baylor sports or Chip and Jo? Or maybe it’s finally time to take the kids to Dealey Plaza.

These are all places in Texas where you can experience North America’s first total solar eclipse in seven years. Prior to 2017, there hadn’t been a solar eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979, and the next time won’t be until 2044. This rare and fantastical phenomenon will darken the skies in parts of fifteen states, as well as swaths of Mexico and Canada. 

And yes, even the eclipse is bigger in Texas. You’ll be able to see it not just in parts of Maverick County, Waco, and Dallas, but also in San Antonio, the Hill Country, and Paris. According to the Great American Eclipse website, nearly 13 million Texans live within the “path of totality” (more on that term in a minute), with the potential for as many as 720,000 visitors coming in from out of state. 

That being the case, it’s neither too soon nor too late to plan ahead. Even if you’re camping or crashing with friends, an overnight stay is practically a must, since heavy traffic is expected. Some accommodations are long-gone, with others booking fast, while most major chain hotels operate on a standard eleven-month advance reservation window, which means the time is almost here (three- or four-night minimums are likely). Texas state parks don’t open up for reservations until five months in advance, so add a calendar reminder for August 8, 2023, or book a private campground now. If you have kids, plan to take them out of school for a day or two; ideally it becomes the subject of a paper or science project (there is also a NASA-affiliated citizen science project, involving the recording of sound, data, and observations, that any child or adult can do on their own). 

If you do a day trip, bring your own food and water, and don’t expect to get home until very, very late. In 2017, people making what would have normally been a five-hour trip back to Chicago from Southern Illinois wound up crawling on highways for as long as fifteen hours. My fifty-mile drive back to Portland, Oregon, from Salem took four hours. 

“Watching the eclipse is simple,” says Katie Kizziar, assistant director for education and outreach for the McDonald Observatory in West Texas. “Focus on your (non)-exit plan to maximize your enjoyment.”

So what’s the science behind all this hubbub, anyway? An eclipse is “basically the perfect alignment of the earth, sun, and moon,” says Keely Finkelstein, an astronomy professor at the University of Texas. “And for a solar eclipse, it has to happen during a new moon. We don’t get solar or lunar eclipses all the time because the moon’s orbital path is a few degrees off most of the time. But for an eclipse, all three are on a perfectly straight line.”

Eclipses actually happen pretty regularly, but not all of them are total, nor are they always over land or cities, let alone in the U.S. (the most recent total eclipse was over Antarctica). And not all locations are created equal. You want to be somewhere that is 100 percent in “the totality,” where the alignment is complete, the sun disappears, and all is darkness. That is also the only way you’ll be able to take off the necessary safety glasses for a little bit of time (it’s never safe to look at the sun directly for very long—it’s just that during an eclipse is the only time you want to. Also, you’ll still need sunscreen). 

“Partial is cool, but go for the whole thing if you can,” says Kizziar. McDonald is far from the path of totality, in Fort Davis, but the UT-Austin-affiliated observatory is distributing at least 100,000 viewers to event organizers, as well as providing training for schools and families to safely experience the eclipse. Those methods include, Kizziar says, “building cereal-box pinhole viewers” and “using crackers, colanders, and tree leaves.”

An eclipse is not just a visual experience, but a tactile and aural one. “It doesn’t get fully pitch-black dark, but it’s kind of like you’re going into twilight,” says Finkelstein. “It definitely gets a lot darker. And you will notice the temperature drop. Insects and birds will start chirping and make other noises, as if it were sunset.”

Kizziar notes that Texas is also going to be a hotspot for eclipse-chasers because of a greater chance of good, clear, cloud-free weather. But most of all, it’s because we have so many options both for totality and a longer time in the totality. Austinites will experience 100 percent totality for only one minute and forty seconds, so hardcore fans might want to leave town for the Hill Country—be it Dripping Springs, Kerrville, or Lampasas—to catch the full eclipse for a longer period. San Antonians will want to be on the city’s northwest side. According to KSAT, Fair Oaks Ranch leads Bexar County with more than three minutes of totality, while JBSA-Lackland will get a mere nine seconds.

During the 2017 eclipse, even the best-aligned locations, like Oregon and Illinois, only got between two and three minutes of totality. But this year in Texas, as noted, the town of Radar Base, which is around twelve miles north of Eagle Pass, will have 4 minutes and 27 seconds of totality. That’s about as good as it gets (Nazas, Mexico, will get one second more). The Hill Country towns of Kerrville and Ingram, which are just about on the centerline, will get 4 minutes and 24 seconds (one member of Kerrville’s eclipse planning committee, Jeff Stone, is a former NASA employee who moved there from Houston specifically with this in mind). The Waco and Hillsboro areas will also have well over four minutes of totality. Waco has plans for a weekend-long event, including a Friday-night concert and a fun run, and the city is teaming up with several school districts to distribute free safety glasses to students throughout the year. 

Is it that big a deal to be in the totality for four minutes versus three minutes versus two minutes? No, but the longer the phenomenon lasts, the more you can enjoy it with the glasses off. Plus it’s still fun to have those bragging rights. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of the best viewing locations in Texas.

Eagle Pass, 1:27:32 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 23.6 seconds

Radar Base, about eleven miles north, gets those few extra seconds of totality, but if you stick to Eagle Pass itself, you’ll be able to say you were one of the first people in Texas (and America) to see the 2024 eclipse.

Kerrville, 1:32:07 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 24.4 seconds

Kerrville public information officer Stuart Cunyus says the Hill Country region overall is expecting more than 150,000 tourists, with “a large majority of that coming to Kerrville.” That dwarfs the 11,100 who came for the Fourth of July in 2022, as well as the entire Kerrville Folk Festival. All regular camping sites at the city-owned Kerrville-Schreiner Park are now sold out, though the city is also opening up a field for no-hookup tent sites. 

Down the road in Ingram, the totality will start seven seconds sooner and last a  second longer. The Hill Country Arts Foundation is opening up the site of Stonehenge 2, with limited RV sites (for a whopping $500 per night), $100 parking spaces, and $10 walk-in admission.  

Fredericksburg, 1:32:58 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 23.9 seconds

The city of Fredericksburg estimates that Gillespie County’s usual population of 27,000 will reach as many as 100,000 on eclipse day. In addition to accounting for that traffic, planners are reminding people to allow for the possibility that mobile phone towers will be overwhelmed. Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park will be the main public viewing area, opening on a first-come, first-served basis at 5:30 a.m. until it reaches capacity. Airbnbs in the area are currently renting for around $1,000 a night and then some; if you are a resident of one of these totality hotspots, you may also just be tempted to leave town and rent your own place out, a la Austin during SXSW and ACL Fest.

Burnet, 1:34:52 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 20.4 seconds

And speaking of music festivals, there will also be one during the eclipse, if you want your totality with more of a raver/cyber-hippie vibe. The Texas Eclipse Festival promises three days of “music, art, space, technology” at Reveille Peak Ranch, with a potential capacity of more than fifty thousand people.  

Waco, 1:38:02 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 11.4 seconds

The place to be in Waco is the area around Drayton McLane Stadium, a ticketed event that Monica Sedelmeier, the city’s director of communications and marketing, says is expected to draw 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. The reason why they are not actually using the inside of the Baylor football stadium, which has a 45,000-person capacity, is twofold: you wouldn’t get 360-degree views, but also, Sedelmeier says, “past experience shows that if you get a number of people in a stadium during an eclipse, the temperature drop during totality can cause a cloud to form due to the water vapor in their breath, which would not make for good eclipse viewing.”

Kaufman, 1:40:58 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 21.9 seconds

Dallas proper (yes, including Dealey Plaza) doesn’t quite hit the four-minute mark (3 minutes, 49.7 seconds, to be precise). Out in the suburbs, Mesquite will get you just across that line (4 minutes, 7.6 seconds). But if you really want to max it out—and find out just how long it might take to travel 33 miles on the day of the eclipse—Kaufman can deliver.

Paris, 1:44 p.m.

Time in the totality: 4 minutes, 1.5 seconds

As the eclipse heads northeast and leaves the state, Texarkana will get just 2 minutes and 23 seconds (no decimal) of totality. But before that, you’ll always have Paris. As of this writing, you can still score a room at the Holiday Inn Express for just $348 a night!