LA PINE, Ore. — Cruising along the dusty single-track on my bike, I felt my heart skip a beat when a deer 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 just a half-hour drive south of Bend, Ore., but I might as well have been all alone in a pristine wilderness.
La Pine State Park, which covers more than 2,000 acres, is no secret to local outdoors enthusiasts — yet it seems to hold many secrets in its towering ponderosa pines and picturesque rivers (see oregonstateparks.org).
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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 River and the Fall River flow serenely through La Pine State Park, home to myriad birds, including eagles and red-tailed hawks. Darting squirrels seem to peek around pine trees on every corner.
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 Oregon State Parks.
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 loop trail that takes hikers and bikers into the more remote areas of La Pine State Park. I consider it the best trail for mountain biking in the park because of its scenery and solitude.
At the far north end, Fall River Falls shimmered a bright white in the morning sun.
After resting at the falls, I turned south back toward the Deschutes River area of the park, on the Deschutes loop that follows the meandering river and runs past some of the park’s 137 campsites. I eventually wove 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.