When to Ride: Southern Tier

Sep 12, 2013

Photo from mtaylor2118's photostream

I've got the Southern Tier Bicycle Route on my mind these days in no small part because we're currently updating two sections of the route.

The Southern Tier is one of those routes that has a distinct "season" for riding due to the effect extreme weather conditions can have on a cyclist's experience. We believe it is generally best ridden early fall or spring for optimum conditions.

There are three factors contributing to this advice: deserts, mountain passes, and hurricane season.

The long desert stretch from Brawley to Palo Verde, California, can produce high temperatures even in early May. As we recently heard from a concerned resident of Palo Verde, "During May, this locale needs to be wisely considered day by day according to the temperature. After late May to mid September, this locale is not at all safe to be out on a bike. We spike up to 130 degrees, average 118 for many many days without cooling at night...well it cools down [at night] to 100 degrees."

Compounding the issue of high temperatures is also the relative lack of services, including sources of water, on this stretch. Many of the businesses — including campgrounds — are run seasonally and close during the summer months due to lack of business.

On the flip side, though the Southern Tier only crosses the Continental Divide three times, the highest pass in New Mexico is over 8,000 feet and late spring or early fall snows closing the passes temporarily is not unusual. Most of the time they are cleared in a day or two with snow accummulation pushed to the side of the road. You will need to pay attention to weather reports and be prepared to wait it out a day or two if need be at these times.

And finally, hurricane season can have a detrimental effect on the route from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Florida, and sometimes even as far west as Navasota, Texas. The official hurricane season is typically June through November with the peak considered to be August through October. Even if a hurricane doesn't come inland far enough to impact the route directly, there is a ripple effect on services and traffic volumes as displaced populations and rescue/rebuilding workers move in.

Based on the above factors, for spring eastbound departures, we advise leaving in early March while westbound departures could occur as early as February to be across the desert by the end of April. For fall eastbound and westbound departures, early to mid-September is a good target.

Learn more about the Southern Tier route from our Route Network page and be sure to click on the Logistics and Terrain tabs for more information.

Photo from mtaylor2118's Flickr photostream when she rode the Southern Tier in 2005.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Dave Atkinson

Me and my buddy Matt did west to east in 2011 starting march 20th(flew over from England) and had an awesome trip.Pretty hot for a couple of Brits but got used to it quickly. In 31 days didn't have one drop of rain on us,amazing.All Americans across route treated us like royalty, love them all,so much that I came over and cycled Atlantic coast in march and am planning pacific coast for next year.We ran a very interesting blog,including poetry every day(about our day) which you can find on dmjacrossusa.tumblr.com see you all again soon in the US, happy cycling. P.s.anyone need accommodation when pedalling in GB drop me a line,Dave Atkinson

September 12, 2013, 9:54 AM
Ariosto Rosado

How long it took you both? What was your average distance per day?

September 21, 2013, 10:33 AM
Von Ketelsen

I hope to bicycle the southern tier route someday!

September 12, 2013, 11:16 AM
Robert Larson

I rode the Southern Tier west to east, spring of 2008. Was told by many locals all the way as far as Louisiana how unusual the weather had been that year. 40 mph headwinds straight out of the east; 40 plus degrees cooler than normal; torrential downpours; ferries out due to flooding and even a tornado. This was my first long distance bike tour... and I loved every brutal minute of the adventure.

September 13, 2013, 10:56 AM
Nancy Dean Mercury

Today, September 15, is the day I would consider the beginning of the tour season for Southern Tier crossing the border of Arizona and California. The early morning hours are in the high 70's and the long desert crossings can be finished by noon if you depart at 4 am. The day time temps are still in the low 100's around noon to 6 pm. The temperature will fluctuate, some days cooler down to upper 90's, and the rainy thunderous monsoons are over. See you in Palo Verde. Host for Southern Tier, Glamis Sand Dune Support.

September 15, 2013, 5:15 PM

Hi Nancy,

I'm planning on starting towards the end of September, or first week of October.

I'm traveling with two dogs and want to wait until the temps are 90 or lower. (The dogs will be in a trailer with cover.)

The sites I've been to show that October averages 89 or below, not sure this reflects the beginning of the month however.


August 27, 2014, 4:28 PM
Roger McDougall

Hi Nancy

Susan Fowler and I are leaving San Diego on the 31st March, heading your way

Hope to catch up with you

Our blog is at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/Southern



January 31, 2015, 7:17 PM
Patrick Grewe

I've been thinking about riding this route starting sometime in December and finishing sometime in January. Does anyone know what the conditions are that time of year?

October 30, 2013, 9:03 AM
Andy Noren

Southern Tier-thinking of leaving eastbound from San Diego to St Augustine on Nov 10 Any advice about leaving that time? Ive researched temp averages and it looks ok all the way across with temps mainly in the mid 60s. Any thoughts on this time frame would be appreciated. Andy

November 2, 2013, 9:04 AM

How was the weather at that time - want to do Arizonia to SD in December

May 30, 2014, 3:13 PM
Darren LaFrenier

I'll be biking across the country on January 4th with my buddy Taylor. We will be biking the southern tier starting on the east coast. Anyone have any knowledge of weather conditions during the winter? Any pointers for inexperienced bikers like Taylor and I? Any and all comments will be greatly appreciated.

November 25, 2013, 5:13 PM
Georgia Rose

Darren, My friend Jenn and I are doing the Southern Tier leaving San Diego on Jan 1st. Perhaps you and Taylor will pass us, but it would be great to travel together a few days if our schedules allow it. Maybe by the time we are three days into our tour we can give you some pointers, but I don't have any actual experience touring or at this time and place of the country. Good luck, hope to see you on the road!

December 10, 2013, 3:33 PM
Connie Olsen

Georgia, how did your trip go? I am also planning on doing the southern tier, starting in San Diego on January 1st. Did you run into any problems? Recommendations? What was your overall experience like?

October 31, 2014, 2:01 PM

Connie, the trip was life changing! If you're going strictly by the ACA maps, there are a few things to be aware of (though the maps themselves are very good!). The hills on the first three maps of section one were brutal. On section 1, map 6 is Glamis. Try not to get there on the weekend or one day either side as it's full of recreational vehicles and folks having fun but not watching out for cyclists. The store there charges extremely high prices and even $5 per bathroom use. Nancy near Palo Verde was a great cyclists only host! The hostel at Marathon, TX was not sure if they were open to guests or not, and it was quite a search to find a number to reach anyone, but we got to stay a night. The alternative was several hundred dollars for a night at the hotel, out of our budget. There were Warm Showers hosts in town too, we heard later. If you haven't discovered it already, warmshowers.org is a great way to get to know local enthusiasts and have a spot to lay your head without charge. Texas experienced its worst winter on record last year, but everyone was hospitable beyond compare! I would highly recommend tire lining strips as well as thorn resistant tubes and stay off the grass and road shoulders to avoid flats. Used tires get flats many times worse than new. We carried spare tubes, patch kits, chain, tools, and extra rack bolts, etc to do repairs along the road.

Over all, I loved the solitude for hours on end every day and seeing the cultures and people along the way. I learned a lot about myself and healed a lot through this ride, but as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. It was much harder physically than I expected, and I'm used to hard work. It was harder mentally and spiritually as well. If you are riding with a partner, it's very similar to being married, so take (and be!) a good one or expect to not necessarily be good friends after the fact!! Through Florida, the route was more scenic and we were ready to reach St. A so we took several shortcuts via google maps and shaved off over 100 miles. Once we got there, the Pirate Haus Inn and Hostel was an awesome landing place!! Email me if you have any questions I could help you with at girl4god88@gmail.com. If you're looking for a day by day journal of the trip with pictures of terrain, I kept a blog at faithinactionblog.org and the posts should still be there. Good luck on your ride, and enjoy some part of each day as much as possible!

October 31, 2014, 8:04 PM
Tyler Hensleigh

Hey Connie! I should be starting the southern tier January 7th! Maybe I can catch up with ya! I am doing the whole thing, havent dont it before though

December 25, 2014, 5:47 PM
David Galloway

In 2002 I left St Augustine I October, arriving 8 weeks later in early December. Great trip, loved every moment and met some wonderful people. Weather was very mixed: hot and humid in Florida, wet and British part of the time and a few very cold days. My recumbent trike had a sun shade fixed which was a huge benefit on those long hot hills.

Averaged 60 miles a day with a rest day every 8 days or so. Met a number of cyclists going the other way but was very happy going east to west, and the wind was with me as much as it was against me. Also meant I was a bit fitter when I reached the mountains!

Good luck to those of you planning your trips, i am quite envious!

September 6, 2014, 3:44 AM
Sandra Denis

I'm planning to cycle from San Diego toward Navasota starting around March 8th-10 (2015). I wouldn't describe myself without experience but neither really experimented. Would you recommend me to use my full carbon bike with a cargo or an aluminium frame bike? Any advices for me?

All comments will be really appreciated.

Thanks everyone!

December 5, 2014, 9:02 PM
Josh Hart & Shoeless Jo

I'm on day 2, pedaling west to east on the souther tier. Catch up with my border collie and I at www.longbikeride.com

February 28, 2015, 9:00 AM
Dan Dudley

Recently retired and caring for my wife of 44 years as a hospice patient. Always loved cycling and was planning on the Southern Tier, self supported to clear my head once nature has run its course with her illness. I was hoping to leave west to east in September of 2015, but I've never attempted something like this and wondered about resources and or guides to help me prepare and seek out the right equipment. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.....

March 2, 2015, 12:14 PM

I am thinking about biking the southern route in 2016. I cannot begin until the second week of May however. I am used to the hot weather (I bike through the summer in my home state of Arkansas). Will this late start prove to be a big problem?

March 30, 2015, 11:49 AM
Jennifer Milyko


Either direction it is probably not ideal but carry lots of water and ride early and late versus the middle of the day. I think you'll find the heat across the desert is different than in Arkansas, much drier.

March 30, 2015, 1:55 PM
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