Northern Tier vs Southern Tier Bicycle Routes: A Guide for Seniors

northern tier vs southern tier cross country touring cyclist's choice
If you're a senior cyclist looking for an exciting way to explore the United States, a cross-country cycling tour might be just the adventure you're looking for. With two primary routes to choose from - the Northern Tier and Southern Tier - you have a lot to consider before you hit the road.

In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at the differences between these two popular routes, so you can make an informed decision about which one is best for your goals and preferences.

Northern Tier Route

The Northern Tier Route is a 4,265-mile journey that takes cyclists from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine, through some of the most scenic and remote areas of the northern United States. While this route offers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and the Atlantic Coast, it is not for the faint of heart.

The Northern Tier is known for its challenging terrain, with long stretches of steep mountain climbs and descents. Cyclists will also encounter remote stretches of road, with long distances between towns and services. Weather can be unpredictable, and in some areas, cyclists may need to contend with cold temperatures, snow, and high winds.

Despite the challenges, many cyclists find the Northern Tier to be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. The route passes through some of the most beautiful and scenic areas of the country, and cyclists will have the opportunity to see wildlife, national parks, and historic landmarks along the way.

Southern Tier Route

The Southern Tier Route is a 3,052-mile journey that takes cyclists from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida, through a diverse range of landscapes and cultural regions. This route offers a more moderate climate and flatter terrain than the Northern Tier, making it an attractive option for senior cyclists who want to take things at a more leisurely pace.

The Southern Tier takes cyclists through the deserts of the Southwest, the Gulf Coast, and the Florida Keys, offering a chance to explore historic sites, culturally rich cities, and stunning natural wonders. However, cyclists should be aware that they may encounter heavier traffic in some areas, particularly around major cities.

Cyclists on the Southern Tier may also have to contend with summer heat and humidity in some parts of the route, which can be challenging for those not accustomed to such conditions. However, the route offers plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation, with frequent towns and services along the way.

Choosing the Right Route

When deciding between the Northern Tier and Southern Tier routes, there are several factors to consider. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Fitness level: The Northern Tier is a more challenging route, with steeper climbs and longer stretches between towns. Cyclists should have a high level of fitness and endurance to tackle this route.

Cycling experience: Both routes require a certain level of cycling experience, but the Northern Tier is generally considered more difficult due to the terrain and weather conditions.

Climate and terrain: If you prefer a moderate climate and flatter terrain, the Southern Tier may be a better fit for you. If you're looking for more of a challenge and don't mind unpredictable weather, the Northern Tier may be a better fit.

Sights and destinations: Both routes offer plenty of opportunities to explore national parks, historic sites, and cultural landmarks. Consider what you're most interested in seeing along the way.

Ultimately, the choice between the Northern Tier and Southern Tier routes will depend on your personal preferences and goals for the tour. If you're not sure which one is right for you, consider talking to other cyclists who have completed these routes to get their insights and recommendations. With careful planning and preparation, a cross-country cycling tour can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you'll cherish for years to come.

Preparing for Your Tour

No matter which route you choose, preparing for a cross-country cycling tour requires careful planning and preparation. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Bike and gear: You'll need a reliable bike that's well-suited for long-distance cycling, as well as essential gear such as a helmet, cycling shoes, and comfortable clothing. It's also a good idea to invest in panniers or other gear that will allow you to carry everything you need for the journey.

Training: Make sure you're physically prepared for the tour by engaging in regular training rides in the months leading up to your departure. Gradually increase the distance and difficulty of your rides to build up your endurance and strength.

Route planning: Take the time to carefully plan your route, including where you'll stay each night, where you'll find food and supplies, and how far you'll ride each day. Consider downloading offline maps or using GPS devices to help you navigate.

Safety: Make sure you're aware of the potential hazards along your route, including traffic, weather conditions, and wildlife. Wear reflective clothing and lights to increase your visibility, and carry a first-aid kit and emergency supplies in case of an accident or other emergency.


A cross-country cycling tour is an incredible adventure that offers a chance to see the country from a unique perspective. Whether you choose the Northern Tier or Southern Tier route, careful planning and preparation are key to a successful journey. Consider your personal preferences and goals, and don't be afraid to seek advice from other cyclists who have completed these routes. With the right preparation and a sense of adventure, a cross-country cycling tour can be an unforgettable experience that you'll treasure for years to come.

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