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Don Cline, founder of Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, discusses the total eclipse that will occur August 21, 2017.
Angela Wilhelm/awilhelm@citizen-times.com

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — If you’re a fan of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway, you might be wanting to watch the upcoming solar eclipse surrounded by their beauty.

So where are the best spots to spread out your picnic blanket on Aug. 21 as the U.S. experiences the first total eclipse of the sun to go coast to coast since 1918?

Let’s break it down.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park, with 11 million visitors last year, according to the National Park Service.

The total solar eclipse will wash over the westernmost side of the park, where there are plenty of pull-offs, campsites and picnic areas from which to watch the show.

“It’s hard to estimate how many people may come to the park to experience the eclipse, but we understand that many people want to be in a natural area free of artificial lights and sounds when totality happens,” said park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

The darkness will last from a few seconds to more than 2½ minutes, depending on how close you are to the center line. The park has created an interactive map to help you find a site close to the center line where you’re most likely to see a dazzling display of stars and planets accented by the corona of the sun.

More: How can you safely view the eclipse? And 35 other questions, answered

More: Solar eclipse lodging still available in several states, but act fast!

The big daddy of viewing areas in the Smokies — Clingmans Dome — will hold a spectacular all-day viewing event. The ticketed affair at the park’s highest point, at 6,644 feet, has long been sold out.

But don’t despair. There are many other places to picnic in the southwestern part of the park that will experience totality, including front-country areas Cades Cove and Oconaluftee.

The vast meadow at Cades Cove, on the Tennessee side of the Smokies is one of…