Trail Quest

When I started writing this blog, the first post I shared on social media was this one about the 4th grade National Parks pass. My college friend Heather, who also lives in Virginia, commented that I should look into the Trail Quest challenge. I was intrigued, so I decided to check it out.

Trail Quest is a completely free program sponsored by the Virginia State Park system. All you have to do is visit this website, create an account for yourself, and log each new state park that you visit. Periodically, you will receive a pin in the mail for reaching the following milestones: 1st park, 5th park, 10th park, 20th park, and all of the parks (Master Hiker). One nice feature is that you can enter your visits retroactively. This was great news for us because we were able to go back and log the date of our very first state park visit, which we had completed a few weeks before finding out about Trail Quest.

Shortly after logging the details of our visit to Natural Bridge State Park, I received an email stating that we had earned our first pin and would be receiving it in the mail in the near future. Just a few days later, this pretty little pin arrived, and we were hooked.

Pin #1, earned for visiting our first state park

My daughter and I decided that we had only one option: keep visiting Virginia State Parks until we earn our Master Hiker pin. Of course, this is easier said than done. With a total of 39 state parks (one of which is technically maintained by the state of Kentucky and is not needed to complete the Trail Quest) spread out over nearly 43,000 square miles, this is probably going to take us at least a couple of years. Still, it’s fun to have a goal to work towards, especially when the pandemic has limited almost all activities except those that take place outdoors. When my lovely sister sent us an annual Virginia State Park Pass as an early Christmas gift, we were off and running.

Over the course of a month, we managed to visit an additional four state parks: Sky Meadows, Leesylvania, Mason Neck, and Westmoreland. Each park was unique and magical in its own way. Each one also filled me with a mixture of awe of our state’s natural beauty and embarrassment that it has taken me this long to explore Virginia’s State Park system.

For those of you who aren’t running the numbers, the four parks we visited in the past month plus the park we visited in November add up to five unique state parks, which means…we qualified for our second pin! The pin arrived this week, and someone was awfully excited.

Knowing how easy it is to lose tiny things, I decided we needed a special place to keep our pins. I ordered this hat from Home State Apparel and selected the colors that coincidentally make the design look a bit like the VA State Park logo. The hat currently sits on display on a shelf in our foyer, where it waits for more pins and the occasional selfie during future state park visits, as well as obligatory feline photo shoots.

So what’s next for us in the magical world of Virginia State Parks? We are planning a short day trip to park #6 within the next week or so, depending on the weather. We also booked four nights of Spring Break at an Airbnb a few hours south of here, which is less than a 30-minute drive from four different state parks. In the mean time, I enjoy reading and hearing about other people’s Trail Quest experiences. The Virginia State Park’s Twitter feed recently posted a photo of two of the newest Master Hikers, and the Virginia Outdoor Adventures podcast featured a fabulous interview between host Jessica Bowser and AmeriCorps member Kindra McDonald, who also completed the Trail Quest challenge. In related news, Virginia Outdoor Adventures might be my new favorite podcast.

In general, I’m so grateful that Heather mentioned the Trail Quest program to me back in November. It’s free, it’s family friendly, it gets us out of the house, and it gives us something to look forward to in the crazy uncertainty of the current times. No matter what lies ahead, I know we have a lot of exciting adventures on the horizon. Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

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