La Pine State Park

Directions: From Bend, take U.S. Highway 97 south. A few miles before reaching the town of La Pine, turn right onto State Recreation Road. Follow the road for about 3 miles to the park (about a half-hour from Bend).

Distance: The park has about 15 miles of singletrack. Loops range from 1 to 5 miles but can be linked for longer rides.

Rating: Aerobically easy and technically easy.

Trail features: Rolling singletrack through a scenic section of the Deschutes National Forest along the Upper Deschutes and Fall rivers.

LA PINE — Cruising along the dusty singletrack, I felt my heart skip a beat when an animal bounded across the trail just 20 feet ahead.

The speedy doe quickly disappeared into the thick forest surrounding the Fall River.

I was in the middle of a popular state park, but I might as well have been all alone in a pristine wilderness.

La Pine State Park, which covers more than 2,000 acres in southwest Deschutes County, is no secret to local outdoors enthusiasts — yet it seems to hold many secrets in its towering ponderosa pines and picturesque rivers.

Perhaps one well-kept secret is its sprawling network of singletrack. The 15 miles of trails that wind through the park are shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians, and are perfect for all levels of mountain bikers, including beginners. The flat, nontechnical nature of the trails makes La Pine State Park an ideal place for family bike rides with the kids.

Most of the trails are well-signed and designed in short loops that, when combined, can allow a biker to see much of the park on a ride of just two or three hours.

Sections of the Upper Deschutes and the Fall River flow serenely through La Pine State Park, which is home to myriad birds, including eagles and red-tailed hawks. Darting squirrels seem to peek around pine trees on every corner.

Last week, I made the half-hour drive south from Bend to La Pine State Park, where I parked at one of several day-use areas. I started on the Cougar Woods loop trail near the main picnic area, and soon I linked up to the Big Pine loop.

That trail led me to Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine, simply named “Big Tree” on maps and signs in the park.

The tree is 191 feet tall and 27 feet in circumference and thought to be more than 500 years old, according to www.oregonstateparks.org.

Just a few feet from the massive tree is the shimmering Upper Deschutes, which calmly twists its way through the park.

I crossed a bridge over the Upper Deschutes and found the Fall River loop trail, which is nearly 5 miles long. The singletrack led me north to the Fall River, which flows into the Deschutes just a couple of miles to the east.

The Fall River loop trail takes hikers and bikers into the more remote areas of La Pine State Park, and I consider it the best trail for mountain biking in the park because of its scenery and solitude. Along the trail, the crystal-clear stream twists and trickles through green marshy areas and yellow and purple wildflowers.

At the far north end of the trail network, I arrived at Fall River Falls. The short waterfall shimmered a bright white in the morning sun. Just downstream, a fly angler casted for rainbow or brown trout.

After resting at the falls, I turned south back toward the Deschutes River area of the park. The Deschutes loop follows the meandering river and runs past some of the park’s 137 campsites. That part of the park is more populated with campers and hikers than the north end along the Fall River.

I eventually weaved my way back to my car, having covered most of the park’s trails in about 2½ hours.

While the trails are mostly flat, they offer enough uphills and rolling terrain to keep the ride interesting for more-advanced bikers. And the natural beauty is tough to beat.

Exploring La Pine State Park on a mountain bike is an easy way to unlock the park’s many scenic secrets.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318 or mmorical@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: Mountain Bike Trail Guide, by Bulletin sports and outdoors writer Mark Morical, features various trails in Central Oregon and beyond. The trail guide appears in Outdoors on alternating Wednesdays through the riding season.

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