Big Red sounds like the name of a dog … or an old pickup truck … or that kid in high school who played center on the basketball team. But in La Pine State Park, Big Red is the name of Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine tree. He’s an old guy … Over 500 years old, which means he was alive when Christopher Columbus was born … And he earns his name by topping off at 162 feet tall and 28.9 feet around.
Big Red isn’t the only reason to do this ride: There’s also a visit to the lovely Fall River Falls (yes, the name is really Fall River Falls.) And there are miles and miles of gently rolling single track trails along the Deschutes and Fall Rivers in La Pine State Park. Most of the ride is wonderfully shaded and the trails are mainly smooth and packed down.
There’s almost nobody on these trails; just mainly fly fishers who pride themselves on their secret fishing spots and hikers who are camping at the park. But you will see birds of prey: hawks, osprey, and even owls.
This ride is easy like Sunday morning. But it’s well worth the drive to La Pine just for all the river views … and the visit to Big Red.
Almost anytime from late spring (let the snow melt and allow the ground to dry out) through late fall.
Big River boat launch. Just east of the intersection of the Deschutes River and South Century Drive. No parking permit required.
Lat / Long: 43.817511, -121.496426
A highly scenic ride (meadows and waterfalls) meandering along the Deschutes River through big Ponderosa trees on a mix of wide single-track and double-track. Overall, the terrain is mostly flat with a couple of short pitches of uphill and downhill and one small climb up and around Bates Butte near the end of the ride. There is no rocky, technical single-track.
The beginning of the ride is a bit more urban as you pass by some homes, but that soon fades as you enter LaPine State Park. At mile 13.5 you leave the river and begin a traverse around Bates Butte on dirt roads.
We love this ride for its highly scenic payback and for how close it is to town.
“Located about 150 feet from the Deschutes River, this big Pacific Ponderosa rises higher to the sky than all other big ponderosa trees on the nearby landscape. Many of its branches are bigger than the other, younger ponderosa trees that populate the Deschutes National Forest.
Big Red claims the crown as the biggest and perhaps the oldest of its kind ponderosa in the U.S. It’s been around longer than white settlement in North America. Tree experts have calculated its age at over 500 years and perhaps as much as 600 years old, sprouting from the seeds of a cone around the years of 1400-1500 AD.” [The Source]
Once an arching bend in the river, at some time the river forged a new, straighter channel bypassing the bend. Thus, the Dead Slough. The slough was selected as a site to study overwinter and breeding habitat of the Oregon spotted frog. The frog, endemic to the Pacific Northwest, is noted as a vulnerable species. Keep your eyes open for these tiny critters, which range from 1.75-4 inches in length. [Deschutes River Conservancy]
One of the best views of the Deschutes River in the park. The viewpoint is at a tight bend in the river and is named for Don McGregor who was a member of the State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in the 1960s and ‘70s. [The Oregonian]
“What Fall River Falls lacks in stature it makes up in character. The river, placid above and below, skips down a jagged 14 foot step of what appeared to be heavily eroded columnar basalt, surrounded by grassy meadows and lodgepole pine. The Fall River is fed by a series of springs and retains a very consistent volume all year long. ” [Northwest Waterfall Survey]
Bates Butte, standing at 4,778 ft, was an important fire lookout location in the early 1900s. In 1915, a spur telephone line was run to the top of the summit to assist in firefighting efforts. The first call was received on this line on July 7th of that year. [Forest Lookouts]
This is a ride suitable for an advanced beginner. It has little elevation gain, but it does have about 6 miles of single-track … mostly smooth and rolling with a few roots and a bit of sand.
There are a bunch of turns, most are unsigned. If this is your first time of the route, you most likely will miss a turn. However, the results of a missed turn on non-consequential. Hint: watch your GPS track closely!
This route runs mostly through the state park and surrounding area, both which are lightly populated with homes.
A shorter version of this route, what we like to call the Family Friendly version, can be had by parking at the Big Red trailhead (Lat / Long: 43.769755, -121.518360) and doing an Out & Back to Fall River Falls. From the parking lot, go directly north and pick up the route at mile 6.5. Fall River Falls is at mile 13.2, making for a round trip of 13.4 miles. To get to the Big Red trailhead, take State Recreation road west from Highway 97 for 4.3 miles and turn right on Bench Leg Road. Go 0.7 miles to the parking area / trailhead.
A longer version of this ride is Big Big Red. It is a 5-Star route, but we have yet to fully document it. Thus, for the time being we have tagged it as a Development Route.
Have you ridden this route? Got a question? Join the discussion!