Mountain biking does not have to be all about gut-busting climbs, jump-filled descents and technical features.
Sometimes we just want to take a nice, easy bike ride through a pretty place on a sunny day.
La Pine State Park is the ideal spot for that.
While mountain bike trails in Central Oregon seem to be increasingly geared toward advanced riders who want to take on jumps and more challenging terrain, the trails at La Pine State Park are ideal for beginners and families or those just looking for a mellow ride.
The 2,000-acre park in southwest Deschutes County includes about 14 miles of mostly singletrack trails that are shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians. The flat, nontechnical nature of the High Desert trails makes them perfect for family bike rides with the kids or for older riders looking to log a few miles on easier terrain.
Most of the trails are well-signed and designed in short loops that, when combined, allow a biker to experience much of the park on a ride of just two or three hours.
Sections of the Upper Deschutes and the Fall River wind serenely through the giant ponderosa pines of La Pine State Park, situated in the heart of the Deschutes National Forest.
This past Saturday, I drove with my 13-year-old son, Mason, 30 minutes south from Bend to La Pine State Park for a half-day father-son ride.
We started on the 3.25-mile Cougar Woods loop trail near the main picnic area and soon linked up to the Big Pine loop.
While the trails in the park are often sandy and dusty in the summer, on this day they were in perfect shape after significant rainfall the day before.
The Big Pine Loop, less than a mile, led us to what is recognized as one of Oregon’s largest ponderosa pines, simply named “Big Pine” on maps and signs in the park.
The tree is 162 feet tall and 27 feet in circumference and is thought to be more than 500 years old, according to www.oregonstateparks.org. While it is not the tallest ponderosa in Oregon, it is considered the biggest in circumference.
Just a few feet from the massive tree is the shimmering Upper Deschutes, which calmly twists its way through the park. The stretch of river through the park is popular among kayakers, who can enjoy the slow-moving current.
We crossed a vehicle bridge over the Upper Deschutes and found the Fall River loop trail. The singletrack led us north to the Fall River, which flows into the Deschutes just a couple of miles to the east.
At about 5 miles in length, the Fall River loop trail is the longest in La Pine State Park. It takes hikers and bikers into the more remote areas of the park right along the crystal-clear Fall River. I consider it the best trail for mountain biking in the park because of its scenery and solitude. Along the trail, the meandering stream twists and trickles through green marshy areas and yellow and purple wildflowers.
At the far northwest end of the trail network, we arrived at Fall River Falls, a small waterfall that shined a bright white in the afternoon sun. Just upstream, several fly anglers casted for rainbow or brown trout. This section of the river called the “tubes,” is popular among Fall River fly anglers who can access fishable water both above and below the falls.
After taking a break at the falls, we 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.
Aside from the biking, La Pine State Park is an ideal location for camping, hiking and fishing through the summer and into fall.
We eventually worked our way back to the car, having covered most of the park’s trails in about 2 hours, 35 minutes. We rode more than 15 miles but totaled only about 400 feet of elevation gain — a laid-back ride in a gorgeous location.