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 includes about 14 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 River.

LA PINE —

While mountain bike trails in Central Oregon seem to be increasingly geared toward advanced riders who want to take on jumps and technical terrain features, many local trails are ideal for beginners or those just looking for an easier, mellower ride.

La Pine State Park is home to such trails. 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.

The park is home to myriad birds, including eagles and red-tailed hawks. Darting squirrels seem to peek around pine trees on every corner, and deer are common.

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 3.25-mile Cougar Woods loop trail near the main picnic area, and soon I linked up to the Big Pine loop.

That short trail of less than a mile led me to what is recognized as Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine, simply named “Big Pine” on maps and signs in the park.

The tree is 191 feet tall and 27 feet in circumference and is 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. The stretch of river through the park is popular among kayakers, who can enjoy the slow-moving current.

I crossed a vehicle bridge over the Upper Deschutes and found the Fall River loop trail. The singletrack led me 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.

Not all of the Fall River loop is singletrack, as the trail widens for a bit on the east end of the loop, making it more negotiable for novice mountain bikers. The path then narrows on the north end along the river and on the west side of the loop, but the singletrack remains ridable for beginners.

At the far northwest end of the trail network I arrived at Fall River Falls, a short waterfall that shined a bright white in the morning 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 watching the anglers for a while, 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. But in early June, the park still seemed relatively empty, as the summer crowds have yet to arrive in force.

That said, La Pine State Park is a good alternative to the oft-crowded areas off Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend when looking for places to bike, hike, camp and fish during the Central Oregon summer.

I eventually weaved my way back to my car at the day-use area, having covered most of the park’s trails in about three hours.

While the trails are generally easy and flat, they include enough uphills and tight corners to keep more-advanced bikers engaged.

And the pristine beauty of this part of the Deschutes National Forest, where the Fall River flows into the mighty Deschutes, is just a gorgeous place to spend a few hours, or even a full day, on a mountain bike.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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