Southern Tier

Southern Tier
San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL
7 Map Set (3053.5 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
1. San Diego, CA to Tempe, AZ (417.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
2. Tempe, AZ to El Paso, TX (514.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
3. El Paso, TX to Del Rio, TX (452 mi.) Detail |Addenda
4. Del Rio, TX to Navasota, TX (431.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
5. Navasota, TX to New Roads, LA (385.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
6. New Roads, LA to DeFuniak Springs, FL (443 mi.) Detail |Addenda
7. DeFuniak Springs, FL to St. Augustine, FL (409.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Experience fascinating landscapes, fabulous food, and diverse cultures.

The Southern Tier Bicycle Route is our shortest cross-country route and offers a wide variety of terrain, vegetation, climate, and people all the way across the nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The route is rich in human culture and history — ranging from the Spanish and Mexican influences in California, to the ancient indigenous pueblo cultures in Arizona and New Mexico, to the imprint of the Spanish conquistadors in Texas, to the bayous and French influences of Louisiana, to the Old South of Mississippi and Alabama, to a four-hundred-year-old city in Florida.

After climbing east from San Diego and topping out at 3,800 feet, you'll enter desert country. The route travels through the Yuha Desert and the below-sea-level, irrigated Imperial Valley, before splitting the Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area in half. In Arizona, snowbirds abound as the route travels through Phoenix and its surrounding communities. The Besh Ba Gowah Archeological Park in Globe, though off route, is very interesting. You'll be riding through dry, sparsely populated ranch country where every town will be a welcome sight. Don't pass up the chance to top off your water bottles. New Mexico offers Silver City for the latte drinkers, along with the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (on the Gila Cliff Dwellings Alternate), which are some of the best preserved Mogollon cliff dwellings around.

The ride along the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas, is a treat for bird lovers, especially during migration season, when birds are flying north or south. Texas dominates this route, taking up an entire third of the mileage. Starting in El Paso, just across the Rio Grande River from Juarez, Mexico, the route follows the river southward before turning east and heading through the Davis Mountains, where some of the friendliest folks on the whole route reside. You'll pass the McDonald Observatory atop 6,800-foot Mt. Locke. There's a visitor center with daily tours, and evening "Star Parties" three days per week. After the Davis Mountains, towns are few and the country desolate, full of sagebrush and tumbling tumbleweeds. As you travel through central Texas, the terrain starts to feel like the Alps, but this is actually the famous "hill country." This diverse area serves some great barbeque. In Austin, make sure you go hear some of the diverse music available at the nightclubs on Sixth Street.

Louisiana is like no other state in the United States due to its history, language, culture, and food. First of all, they have parishes instead of counties. Traveling right through the middle of Cajun country, in places like Mamou, a stop in a cafe is a trip unto itself. The crowd is speaking English, but you can't understand the words. Try to hear some lively Cajun music if you have the time. Mississippi offers rural riding all the way into Alabama, where the route crosses a bridge to Dauphin Island. From there it's a ferry ride across Mobile Bay to Gulf Shores and some of the whitest beaches in the world. If the ferry is closed due to inclement weather, you will have to take the alternate route through Mobile.

The scenery varies greatly across Florida, from the historic coastal city of Pensacola to the alligator-filled waters of the area around Palatka. The route ends in St. Augustine, a city full of interesting buildings and the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort that has guarded the city's waterfront for over three centuries.

Photo by Dennis Coello

The Southern Tier route offers challenging terrain right from the start, with some longer climbs leaving San Diego all the way up to In-ko-pah Pass, about 70 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. There are two mountain passes in New Mexico, the highest being Emory Pass at 8,228 feet, which is also the route's highest point. The Gila Cliff Dwelling Alternate, just north of Silver City, New Mexico, goes to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and offers some steep, challenging, rolling climbs and descents, as does the hill country west of Austin, Texas. East of Austin the route flattens out as it meanders through piney woods, by bayous, along farmlands and woodlots, and past the Gulf Coast all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Southern Tier Route is best ridden in early fall or late spring. In September and May, there still might be some very hot weather to contend with at either end of the route. See our blog post When to Ride: Southern Tier for more information on timing. Note that snow can occur at any time in the higher elevations in the Southwest during the winter, and the highest pass in New Mexico is over 8,000 feet. If you are doing a winter trip, remember that you will have short daylight hours. 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 July through November along the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle and can also hit the Atlantic seaboard.

Isolated stretches, especially in the western states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are not uncommon. Services are infrequent and can dictate long miles on some days. The 144-mile stretch from Marathon to Comstock, Texas, calls for specific planning and carrying of food and water. Bike shops are not as plentiful as one would like, and you might have to go off route to find them.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$30/night. The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

  • Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Section 1
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Section 2
  • Besh Ba Gowah Archeological Park, Section 2
  • La Mesilla Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, Mesilla, New Mexico, Section 2
  • Rio Grande, Section 3
  • Chamizal National Memorial, Section 3
  • McDonald Observatory, Section 3
  • Fort Davis National Historic Site, Section 3
  • Amistad National Recreation Area, Section 3
  • Texas Hill Country, Section 4
  • Mamou, Louisiana, "The Cajun Music Capital of the World." Section 5
  • Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Spur, Section 5
  • Audobon State Historic Site and Oakley Plantation, Section 6
  • Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan Historic Sites, Section 6
  • USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile Bay Alternate, Section 6
  • Pensacola, Florida, Section 6
  • Florida Caverns State Park, Section 7
  • St. Augustine, Florida, oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental U.S.,  Section 7

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