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Southern Tier trip planning

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Southern Tier trip planning

Hello Fellow Travelers,

A couple years ago I rode the AC Northern Tier route. (See my blog at Now I am thinking about the AC Southern Tier route in 2022, traveling from San Diego to St. Augustine. Do you have thoughts to share about this trip? Best time of year? Highlights along the way? Have you written about a trip on this route? Other recommendations?



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Southern Tier

Hey James - My plan for this year was to start at the Mexican border and shoot north up the spine of the Sierras and Cascades Mountains.  In my calls to both the Sheriff's Office and Border/Customs I was advised that due to the open border situation, the hills are full of bandidos and they would love to have your survival gear, even killing you for it.  Your route follows that border for many miles.  Since discretion is the better part of valor, I'm beginning further north.  Your call.  I've done the Northern and the Southern routes and would advise you to do the Pacific Coast ride down the PCH, from Olympus N.P. to San Diego.    Fantastic.

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Conventional wisdom is the

Conventional wisdom is the Southern Tier is best done in the Fall or early Spring. Extreme heat in the summer argues strongly against a summer ride. And winter can be bitterly cold and windy, and some passes in Arizona or NM can get snow.  It is not as cold as the northen routes, but we still get some nasty winter weather, either wet in the east or cold in the west.

That being said, I have seen a few determined souls do it in winter and summer.  But they must adapt to the conditions and it is no easy ride those times of year. Some days will be easy but there is bound to be some weather issues in the off season. In summer, you will need to get up before daylight and try to get most of your miles in before noon.  In winter, you may have to hunker down for days to ride out a rain storm or brutal winds.  Or a mountain pass that is snowed in.

I am in Austin, TX and the best time to ride thru Texas is from about mid-March thru mid-May.  The weather is at its best then, and the spring wild flowers are lovely. 

Most organized bike rides in the south are either Spring (April, May)  or Fall (October), for good reason. Take your clues from that.

Having hosted many Southern Tier riders over the years, the Texas Hill Country and Austin are a highlight of the trip for most people.  It is about the mid point of the ride and most riders enjoy resting a few days (or more) in Austin.  A detour to New Orleans is also recommended.  

I am familar with the route in Texas and Lousiana but otherwise have not personally traveled the other portions by bike.

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Southern Tier

I live in the Phoenix area and host Southern tier cyclists every year.  I'm pretty familair with the section from San Diego to the Arizona/New Mexico border.  The vast majoirty of cyclists travel eastbound to take advantage of the prevailing winds, but you can get a crosswind or headwind any time.  I'm sure you are aware of that from the Northern Tier.  I would say mid-February to March is a good time to start in San Diego.  It isn't hot in the desert.  You barely exceed 4,000' elevation in California and Arizona and don't get snow at that elevation often in February or March.  Even if you do, it melts in a day or so.   Snow is more of an issue in New Mexico where you climb to 7,000' or 8,000' (depends on which route you take at Silver City).     

There is very little to see in terms of man-made stuff between San Diego and Phoenix.  It is the wide open spaces and landscape that people comment about most often.  Of course the random encounters with the locals and other touring cyclists are always fun too.    San Diego is a blast and worth a few days before you head out.  Phoenix is big and takes most people a full day to cross it.   Lots to see depending on your interests.    If you are not already familair with trip journals in Crazy Guy on a Bike you should check them out.  There are a lot of Southern Tier journals there from years past.     Feel free to contact me if you make the trip and need a place to stay or want local information.