The Southern Tier has become one of our most popular tours, and it’s easy to see why. This cross-country route is 1,200 miles shorter than either the Northern Tier or the TransAm yet offers epic quantities of scenery and shoulder-season sunshine.
After dipping our bicycle wheels in the Pacific, we’ll climb eastward, riding through Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In Texas, we’ll parallel the Rio Grande before hitting the Texas Hill Country. From there it’s on to Louisiana and the heart of Cajun Country. Finally, you’ll pedal along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama, then detour from the traditional Southern Tier to follow the Gulf Coast of Florida, and ride to your adventure’s end in St. Augustine. From enchiladas to Texas barbecue, alligator po’ boys to Southern grits, we’ll experience the culinary cultures of the South. As one past participant perfectly put it, “This trip lends new meaning to the phrase ‘eating up the miles.’”
"It is just amazing to think that I rode a bicycle all the way across the country at age 68."
Week 1. San Diego to Quartzite, Arizona
You'll meet the group and your leader in San Diego and put the final touches on your gear before a wheel dip in the Pacific Ocean. From there we'll begin the long but gently graded climb to the small town of Alpine, situated alongside the Sweetwater River. We'll continue ascending as we skirt the Mexican border before enjoying a hard-earned, seven-mile downhill into Ocotillo, cruising through the Yuha Desert and the Imperial Valley, past the Colorado River, and finally into the town of Palo Verde.
Week 2. Quartzite to Globe, Arizona
Our second week starts heading through Blythe, where we might check out the Blythe Intaglios, 400- to 2,000-year-old giant human, animal, and geometric figures carved into the desert surface by Mojave and Quechan Peoples. Hope is on the way! Hope, Arizona, that is. Over the next few days, we'll ride through the rolling terrain of the Harquahala and Vulture mountain ranges, though we may be tempted to spend a few hours out of the saddle trying our luck at gold panning in the "Golden Triangle," one of the best prospecting areas in Arizona. Riding into Phoenix, we'll delight in a rest day, great cuisine, and terrific bicycling. Ending the week, we'll spend time in Apache Junction and climb over Gonzales Pass into Globe.
Week 3. Globe to Las Cruces, New Mexico
After enjoying a ride by San Carlos Lake and waving to the saguaro cacti as we head for Thatcher, we'll descend into Three Way and proceed into New Mexico, rolling steadily along toward Buckhorn. The next day we'll arrive in Silver City, the legendary land of outlaws and renegades like Billy the Kid and Geronimo. Here we may choose to kick back and chow down on some spicy Mexican food during our layover day or ride to the ruins of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. There we can explore the homes of the Mogollon people, who resided in the region around the turn of the 14th century. Rested up and raring to go, we'll surmount the Continental Divide and zoom down into Mimbres, readying our legs for the scenic climb up 8,228-foot Emory Pass, the high point of the Southern Tier. From there it's smooth sailing as we continue onward toward Las Cruces.
Week 4. Las Cruces to Sanderson, Texas
Continuing eastward, we'll begin to experience what a popular western swing song refers to as "miles and miles of Texas" -- more than a thousand miles, in fact. We'll swing through El Paso, home of the World's Largest Pecan Grove. From there we'll proceed to Fort Hancock and then cycle onward to an overnight stay in Van Horn. After a long day of riding to reach Fort Davis, the best surviving example of a Southwestern frontier military post, we'll enjoy another respite as we explore Davis Mountains State Park and/or the ever-popular Reptile and Rattlesnake Museum. Rested up, we'll pedal past low-growing brush under the wide-open skies of west Texas into Marathon and Sanderson.
Week 5. Sanderson to Johnson City, Texas
Riding from Sanderson toward Del Rio, we'll pass within a few short miles of Big Bend National Park, named for the sharp turn the Rio Grande makes there. Next, we'll climb into the Lost Maples State Natural Area, pedal along the Guadalupe River to Comfort, enjoy Fredericksburg and Johnson City, where you may want to stop in and see the boyhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Week 6. Johnson City to Silsbe, Texas
We'll arrive to Austin and delight in a long-awaited layover day. Known as "the live music capital of the world," Austin is also exceedingly rich in history and home to a number of great museums. When the settlement was founded in 1923, Austin law required every colonist to present evidence "that his character was perfectly unblemished ... and that he is moral and industrious." Fortunately, we'll not be required to live up to those high standards while just passing through! After paying homage to the late Stevie Ray Vaughn at his statue located on Town Lake, we'll ride from Austin to Bastrop, nestled along the Colorado River (a different Colorado), through Winchester, site of the largest mountain bike race in Texas, and into Carmine. The following day we'll ride downhill to our campsite -- perhaps stopping in at the Burton Cotton Gin, built in 1914 and still in operation. The ride to Coldspring winds through a pleasant stretch of woods within the Sam Houston National Forest. As we push on toward Louisiana, we'll ride through the brushy Big Thicket Preserve, which historically served as a hiding place for outlaws.
Week 7. Silsbe to Poplarville, Mississippi
Entering Louisiana, we'll spend time in Merryville, which skirts both the state border and the Sabine River. We'll spend the majority of our time in Louisiana crossing the pine hills and prairies of the Louisiana Uplands portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain, the geological province in which the entire state lies. As we continue to Oberlin, with any luck we might catch the Bundick Lake Cajun Cook-Off. Then, on the following day, we'll visit Mamou, the Cajun capital of Louisiana (and the world!), where we can treat our ears to the rich sounds of zydeco music and our taste buds to some catfish and boiled crawfish. We'll ride through Simmesport and cross the mighty Mississippi. The terrain transitions from table flat to slightly rolling as we bypass Baton Rouge and finish up the week in Jackson, where we have the option of taking a layover day and making the trip to New Orleans.
Week 8. Poplarville to Destin, Florida
We'll shift toward the Mississippi Sound and enter Alabama. As we fight the urge to spend our days exploring seafood restaurants along the route, we'll head to the Alabama Port, where we'll roll aboard a ferry for a different sort of ride through Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, which has flown French, English, and Spanish flags, and the Fort Morgan Historic Site. We'll then find the way to our campsite in Gulf Shores, nestled along the Gulf of Mexico. Just like that, we're in Florida, the final state of our cross-country ride. Perhaps we'll have timed it right to take in the Pensacola Seafood Festival as we end our week near here.
Week 9. Destin to St. Augustine, Florida
Our final 10 days on the road checks off a final time-zone change as we ride to Panama City. As we divert from the traditional Southern Tier Route, cycling near the coast with its amazing sights, sounds, and smells, and by the relatively remote Apalachicola National Forest. Rivers we'll cross in this area are wide and slow near the coast. Eventually, we'll leave the Gulf and head across the state toward the Atlantic, riding by Ichetucknee Springs, Florida's natural lazy river. From there we'll bypass Gainesville in favor of the smaller communities of Hawthorne and East Palatka -- where, it's rumored, previous Southern Tier riders have tracked down some of the best milkshakes on the entire route. Our journey ends in St. Augustine, the oldest city in America. Here we'll dip our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean and relax.