Man from Richmond recognized as a Master Hiker after visiting all State Parks

Cole Jensen and his friends visit all 41 state parks in Virginia and is recognized as a Master Hiker.
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 11:21 AM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - A man from Richmond is now considered a Master Hiker after hiking all 41 of Virginia’s State Parks.

Cole Jensen always loved the outdoors and has fond memories of camping and mountain biking with his dad growing up, but he never really considered himself a hiker.

It took about two years for 22-year-old Cole Jensen and his two friends, Matt Sullivan and Alex Brackman to complete Virginia State Parks’ Trail Quest.

In between juggling work and school, Jensen said they hiked in their free time and in about every weather situation the state has to offer.

“Right after an ice storm in 2021, every single trail had a layer of frozen snow on it, so we were slipping and sliding around on it,” Jensen recalled.

But while it wasn’t always easy, the views and the memories made with friends made it all worth it.

“It’s awesome to say that I was able to accomplish something like this because it really did take a lot of time and a lot of dedication, and I’m super proud,” Jensen said.

Trail Quest was created to encourage more people, like Jensen and his friends, to explore beyond their own backyard and see what all Virginia has to offer.

“A park doesn’t get to be a state park unless it has some cultural or natural resources that make it special... So they’re all special in their own way,” Nancy Heltman, Virginia State Parks Visitor Services Director said. “We have everything from a small park, like the Southwest Virginia Museum. It’s only about an acre’s worth of land, but it has a historic building that has some amazing Southwest Virginia oriented displays, history, and artifacts, all the way to Pocahontas State Park, which is our largest state park.”

During her 26 years working for state parks, Heltman said she hasn’t been to one park she hasn’t liked.

“If you listen to the people when you ask them what their favorite parks were. A lot of them will have a favorite park, but they will say they found that were parks that had all different things that they liked,” Heltman said.

And she added that there’s no trail or miles hiked requirement in order to start checking parks off your list. The goal is to just visit each park and explore or learn something new.

“There is no time limit, so if you need to take 10 years to do it, that’s fine. If you never finish all of them, that’s fine too. It’s your quest to do what you want,” Heltman said. “Set your own plan on what you want to accomplish when you visit.”

So far, 17,801 people have participated in Trail Quest with 400 reaching the Master Hiker status.

“There’s no time to start like right now because there is a lot of beautiful things to see just in the state, and I’d say you’re doing yourself a disservice by putting it off,” Jensen said.

Jensen and his friends now have their sights set on visiting every national park across the country, and they’ve already started the trek toward that goal.