I've got the Southern Tier Bicycle Route on my mind during these dark winter days.
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 more than 8,000 feet. Late spring or early fall snowstorms can temporarily close passes sometimes. Most of the time they are cleared in a day or two with snow accumulation 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.
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 all of these 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.
This story has been updated and was originally published on September 12, 2013.
I am planning on starting this tour from Florida heading West on the 1st of Feb 2022. Is anyone else keen to join in?
I am likely going to start mid month. Shooting for a 2 month trip. I was planning for last fall but life events required postponement. My training has been nil since, so I am reluctant to commit, but may see you out there if you are riding slowly.
Hi Heath, I am looking to cycle the same route as you but starting Feb 1st, 2022 so in a month's time. Do you think I'll need to pack some serious cold-weather gear? Also, did you have any other trip blog or record of your trip you'd like to share?
Can anyone offer guidance relative to Southern Tier wind conditions? Is there a significant difference in wind going east to west versus west to east? Thanks
From the Logistics tab on the Southern Tier route description page, a comment on winds encountered on the route:
Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns, but here are a few known observations. In California, dry easterly winds predominate in the fall, blowing west from the desert. In western Texas, winds from the Gulf of Mexico will cause headwinds for eastbound riders. Be aware that hurricanes can occur from June 1 through November 30 along the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle and can also hit the Atlantic seaboard.
Lots more pertinent information for planning available on that page: https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/southern-tier/
Enjoy the planning!
Great content. Thanks for sharing..
What are the challenges in starting a ride going west on the day after Christmas? Where would I first hit snow? Anything else I should be worried about?
I'd expect that you'll hit snow in western New Mexico but the temperatures are going to be chilly overnight sooner than that. Also remember that daylight hours are shorter this time of year so you'll have fewer hours to ride and more time hanging out at a dark campsite if your are not saying indoors.
You might also want to ask this question on our forums. There are many cyclists who have done this route at various times of the year who will have more first-hand information.
Also keep in mind there may be damage due to the hurricanes in the Southeast and flooding in the Austin area that swept through the eastern part of the route in October (2018). You may encounter closed roads and services. It is advisable to call ahead to verify services you are counting on.
I made the trip between June and August, east to west.
The extreme weather conditions are certainly a factor to consider, however I felt that there were plenty of opportunities to stock up on water (I always carried a day or two supply, just in case). The section of dessert throug Glamis was a tough ride (probably the most challenging of the route , because of the heat), but still enjoyable.
There is a shop on the Dune section, which the owner assured me was open year round. I also checked in with the police the day before who told me they were constantly up and down the road, which was true. Had I ran into trouble, I was rarely far from another vehicle. The policeman told me he was unaware of any cycling fatalities due to heat, but drivers often passed out at the wheel.
I tended to check into a cheap motel every few days and more often if there was chance of a hurricane, so I could keep up with the news. I only encountered one warning, which actually blew itself out on the coast and provided a welcome cooling breeze!
The empty sections were a lot less empty than you might think. The RV parks were mostly vacated, but I always found someone managing them who would nearly always let me stay for free and often in my own trailer. Otherwise I was happy to lay my rug under the shade of a tree and sleep there.
So my advice is that the Southern tier is challenging, but completely rideable in the summer. I didn't encounter a single touring rider after the east coast, which was both wonderful because I had the route to myself, but also a shame that folk are missing out on the experience. If you plan to ride it during this time, you will know if you have the stamina and wether you are up for the challenge. The route really deserves more summer riders, though it's not recommended without careful consideration.
I'm glad you had a good experience on the Southern Tier in the summer months. Doing it at that time is certainly a different set of challenges and it sounds like you were up to them. Often times when to ride a route boils down to personal preferences. Sounds like this timeframe suited yours.
Hi everyone, Im thinking about biking this route the whole month of november. Is it too late ? Would it be better to start in San Diego in November and finish in florida or do it the other way (start in Florida and finish in San Diego ? Many thanks in advance.
Are you planning to do the entire route in November? That is a lot of high mileage days with hours of daylight dwindling.
If you start in St. Augustine in November you will likely hit the mountains of New Mexico in winter conditions, snow and cold overnights. While if you start in San Diego there is still a chance of getting snowed on in those mountains but with less accumulation and the road should be ok.
Also note that the Gulf Coast of Florida got hit pretty hard by Hurricane Michael so some services and potentially roads will still be out no matter when you pass through this winter.
Anyone planning an east to west trip for 2019 or 2020? Just starting to plan. I am planning to go solo. I am generally comfotable doing 60 miles a day or so.
I am from the UK and flying to Florida at the beginning of October. I am going to attempt to do the whole route. I also do around that mileage and have done 1 other long distance route before in Europe.
If you're interested in joining me, just let me know.
I am doing a westbound from St Aug to SD starting in Sept 2019
Good Luck! I will be going in October.
Congrats, Steve! Have a wonderful trip.
Congrats on planning to ride the Southern Tier! If you're looking for others to ride with, you might want to post this on our Forums (https://forums.adventurecycling.org/index.php) or if you are an Adventure Cycling member, you can also create a Companions Wanted ad for no charge: https://www.adventurecycling.org/adventure-cyclist/companions-wanted/
Have fun with the planning!
How is January or February to bike the Southern Tier from West to East ?
It will be a bit chilly and potentially wet with a bit of snow in the mountain passes of New Mexico. Also keep in mind the days are shorter so there are fewer hours of daylight to ride.
There is more information on the Southern Tier Route page under the Logistics tab.
I'm starting out from Phoenix December 2017 heading east on the Southern Tier. I rode from Mississippi to Vermont then Vermont to North Dakota on the Northern Tier two years ago. Didn't see many riders and hope to see more this time. I think the temperatures are going to be 60's and 30's. Please let me know if I'm wrong.
I'm planning on doing a section of the route from San Diego heading east starting sometime between Nov 1 - Nov 15 2017. I plan to ride to mid December, however far I get. It will be my first long tour, I'll have done 1 medium tour (330 miles) before then. Let me know if anyone else has a similar schedule!
I am from Tuebingen, Germany, last year I was 66 years old and I cycled route 66 from St. Louis/Mo to San Diego/CA. I am planning to cycle the Southern Tier in 2018, either May/April or Sept./Oct.
My average is 55-65 mls a day. Is there anyone who likes to join me? Would be nice to get in contact.
I too am looking for a partner. Like to stay in cheaper Hostels than camping some of the time. But can camp easily too.
I am planning San Diego to St Augustine (Florida) in beginning of March 2018. About same age, I do comfortably 100 k a day, And cycled in Europe (Nice to Geneva this summer and John O'Groats Uk to Lands End 3 years ago.
Interested? Would like to exchange. I am from Canada.
Are you still planning to head off from SD in March? I'm planning to do just a chunk of ST and may be interested in having a buddy out on the road. My ticket isnt bought yet. Im from Ontario.
I am in the process of planning a slightly modified solo Southern Tier trip, starting from Las Vegas NV, (as I live here) to St. Augustine Florida, which coincidentally is where I grew up. I am planning the Eastbound leg for an early March 2018 departure, and the return Westbound leg, after a few days rest in St. Augustine in Mid April.
I am hoping there are others on the road to spend a few days riding with, especially in the back country areas through the desert. :)
Am planning a trip around a similar time, what do you know about the weather climate...I cant figure out if I am going to burn or freeze!
Maybe we may get the chance to cycle together :)
At the start, you will encounter probably ~ 30F at night, and ~50F during the day, as you head east it will steadily get a little warmer. I am planning for the cold, with the intention of mailing equipment back home as I get further along, and it warms up, and the cold weather gear won't be needed.
NOAA is saying that there is a La Nina pattern forming, and predict a warmer and shorter "winter" than normal, but I'm not a firm believer in LOOOOONG range forecasts.
Overall I'd not fear the heat, during your ride of the ST.
For sure, I'd enjoy the chance to ride together, it's a long road out there. :)
If you'd like to keep in touch or throw ideas around, you can get me at TheOldMan AT OMOAB dawt COM
I rode the Florida Connector/Southern Tier solo east to west last year. I left Key West on March 6, a couple of weeks later than originally planned because of another commitment. In retrospect, I wish I had started in mid-February at the latest. Picked east to west because of the Florida temperatures, and for the relative flatness of the terrain (need to build up my riding strength). Between the Connector and the first leg of the Tier, as well as several days off for visiting and weather, I didn't hit Alabama until April 2.
The toughest part of the ride physically was hitting the Hill Country in Texas and getting used to climbing. After that, West Texas was gorgeous in a desolate sort of way. Had more opposing wind in this section.
When I got to Silver City, NM in early May and looked at the desert temps in Arizona and California, we were looking at record highs, somewhere between 105 and 110 with promises of higher as I went west. Too hot for an Ohio boy, so I bagged the rest and headed home. Got 2,850 miles in before I was done.
I met my first east bound riders at St. Augustine and the last at Langtry, Texas, where I met a couple of Swedes. That was April 26, so I figure they had left San Diego 5 or 6 weeks earlier. I didn't meet anyone else the rest of the trip, so I figure the last east bounders must have pulled out no later than early March. I think I met only one other west bound set of riders.
Looking at the maps now for a Northern Tier ride this year. West to east, I think.
Hey there everyone! Currently on tour - left from nyc to savannah on the Atlantic coast train Sept 30 - currently just outside of Austin Tx waiting out some nasty rain storms. Looking at the mountain passes I have coming up in New Mexico and worried about snow and cold. Any advice or resource a for making sure it is still passable for us? Thanks so much
State DOT websites are often your best resource for finding out the road conditions ahead. Here are some links for your convenience:
And often, if you dial 511 you can get this type of information from recordings. The system will automatically direct you to the information for the state you are currently in.
I hope this helps,
Hey folks, currently on the East Coast Greenway, NYC to Key West. Looking to finish right before Christmas. Then starting west bound from Florida to San Diego late winter on the S Tier, check out my blog at vincentribeiro.wordpress.com under travel, under touring. =D
Hey Jimmy. I'll be doing the Southern Tier in 2017. Departing San Diego in March. Exact date TBA as I haven't bought my ticket there yet. This isn't my first trip. I've done Seattle to San Diego twice, Seattle to Green Bay, Cincinatti to Seattle and Portland to Portland. I finished my last ride on August 5 after traveling 5,177 miles from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine solo. I'd like company for my 2017 Southern Tier ride. Please email me if you're interested at Ty.email@example.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tyjames0604
Robert are you still doing this? Which way are you cycling & how long you planning on taking?
looking to cross southern route Nov 2016. looking for advice and possibly a riding partner. Need some down time from life.
My grandson and I are taking the Southern Tier heading West from DeFuniak Springs in Florida to New Roads Louisiana during Nov 19th to Nov 25th. My wife is supporting us in our car. Your welcome to join us. We take 1 section a year since I have limited vacation. I'm not new to touring but not as young as I use to be either.
Planning on the southern tier from mid February 2017 heading east to Florida. I have support for the first three weeks and the last three but nothing in the middle. I will self-support if necessary, but will be through mid-texas. Anyone interested?
I will be cycling eastbound the Southern tier from San Diego to El Paso starting 1 week of April. I have about 3 weeks for this.
I am think this will be ok for crossing the desert and I am hoping any passes will be free of snow by then?
Any help suggestions are welcome.
Hi Marc... I am also planning on riding from Anaheim to El Paso (and beyond) leaving on April 1st, 2020. How was your ride? The weather and especially elevation climbs as I'm trying to do the ride with the minimum amount of climbs that I can.
I would guess you will be ok with this timeframe. You'll still see snow and colder temperatures in the mountains but they ought to be passable. Good luck and have fun!
I will be over from London cycling the Southern Tier East to West starting about 1st or 2nd Feb 2016. Always keen to meet other travelers!
We have some information on using Amtrak in your bicycle travels on our Multi Modal Travel page: https://www.adventurecycling.org/bicycle-tourism/multi-modal-travel/ (be sure to see the spreadsheet of Amtrak accommodations). For more feedback on what to see on this stretch of the Southern Tier at this time, I would suggest making a posting on our Forums in the Routes discussion area: http://forums.adventurecycling.org/index.php
I am looking to bike on the Southern Tier from February 29th to March 25th. I am considering starting at New Orleans heading West and hoping on the Amtrak Train for certain sections of the trip so that I can make it to Palm Springs in this time frame. Does anyone have any experience biking this route with the assistance of the Amtrak? What sections of the Souther Tier are most memorable and best suited for March?
Dan and Todd, I toured across the Southern Tier in the 80's, left San Diego on June 1st. Hot and difficult in Imperial Valley area headed to Yuma, AZ. I was young, excellent condition, able to knock out 100 mile days with a loaded touring bike. That section I rode a few very early mornings, 3am to about 11am. After Quartzite, heading northeast, temps cooled toward Flagstaff. I hope Dan made his trip. Surly LHT, canti brakes, Tubus racks, Ortleib or Arkel, backpacking stove, some coffee, a few backpacking meals... patience. I might try it again April 2016.
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?
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.
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.....
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
hey there Josh and Shoeless Jo. I hope you had a great ride. I am planning to ride the Southern Tier this coming spring. I am going to start in San Diego on February 28,2016. How were the temps? how cold should I plan for at night? I will be camping the whole trip. I have done the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast. both during the summer months. I have a 40degree sleeping bag. Should I invest in a heavier one?
Did you make the trip as planned. Am going to give it a go in February / March 2017.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
Planning the trip Eastbound May 1. Enjoyed your update. Your blog could no longer be accessed. Is there another way to read and see your blog? Thanks again Guy
You might also want to contact Georgia directly at the email address she specifies in her comment above.
Have a great trip!
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
How was the weather at that time - want to do Arizonia to SD in December
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?
Patrick, Did you do the trip and did you leave in December? If so how was it? I'm thinking of leaving December 1st 2017, what do you think about conditions? Thanks for any help, Jeff
Let's all do it in December, write comments and never get back to them, haha. I'll try to get back to mine ;) Thanks for the post btw!
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.
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
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.
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.
I hope to bicycle the southern tier route someday!
Saw your post regarding the Southern Tier ride across America. I'm interested in making the ride in March 2017. This will be my first ride. Looking for someone to join. Please reply if you are interested. Jimmy
Hi Jimmy, are you still planning to do the Southern Tier in March 2017? I M Also planning this. Let me know your background and how you plan to do the trip. Camp, cook, hotel, miles per day, budget per day, etc.
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
How long it took you both? What was your average distance per day?
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Heya John, if you wanted to link or discuss planning elements feel free to ping me an email at Liammoran93@live.com