The slowest mile I’ve ever hiked


Hunter Upchurch’s oldest son exploring Arch Rock on March 18, 2017, after requesting to ‘climb a mountain’ for his fifth birthday.

I have the curious distinction of being able to pinpoint precisely the slowest mile I’ve ever hiked: March 18, 2017, on Alum Cave Trail from the trailhead to Arch Rock. My oldest son, who had turned five the previous day, had requested to “climb a mountain” for his birthday. His mother and I decided to tackle a more manageable out-and-back trek to the Sutton Ridge lookout on Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. Not a true mountain, to be sure, but for a little boy on his birthday, a grand adventure.

On the Sutton Ridge hike, my younger son—who was two-and-a-half years old—rode in one of those bulky child carrier backpacks that we bought secondhand, afraid that his little legs would never be able to keep up after a hundred yards or so. On day two of our birthday celebration, however, his patience for riding had hit its limit, and he insisted in no uncertain terms that he was going to walk.

Anyone who has hiked Alum Cave Trail knows that you spend long stretches after the trailhead next to the picturesque Alum Cave Creek.

Hunter Upchurch’s two sons at the Alum Creek Trail sign on March 18, 2017.

If you’ve made that hike along the clear, fast-flowing waters of Alum Creek, you’ve probably stepped right over the countless pebbles scattered along the path without much further thought. But for my children, every ten steps or so brought yet another fresh opportunity to stop and meticulously scan their surroundings and find rock specimens, which would, in turn, warrant even closer examination. We plodded. We ambled. We meandered. I know there are all sorts of records of the fastest ascents of Mt. Le Conte, but I firmly believe I deserve the distinction of “slowest hike to Arch Rock.” Thankfully, my youngest consented to riding on my back in the carrier for the return trip to the parking lot—otherwise, we might have wound up with an unplanned night on the trail!

My boys and I have hiked many miles in the Smokies since that chilly early spring morning. (The little one has even earned the title of “mountain goat” in our family, since he is almost always at the front of our hiking group, setting the pace up the mountain.) Nowadays, when we’re out in the backcountry, we’re often trying to move fast, to reach that next lookout point or waterfall, or find the perfect trailside picnic spot. I’d do well to remind myself, though, that a faster hike isn’t always a better hike. One of the best hikes I’ve ever had also happens to be the slowest.

Hunter Upchurch is a high school teacher and college counselor who lives in Jackson, MS, which is much too far from the Smokies for his liking. An enthusiast for all things related to the backcountry, he tries to spend as much time on the trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park as possible.

Great Smokies

Welcome Center

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The Great Smokies Welcome Center is located on U.S. 321 in Townsend, TN, 2 miles from the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can get information about things to see and do in and around the national park and shop from a wide selection of books, gifts, and other Smokies merchandise. Daily, weekly, and annual parking tags for the national park are also available.

Physical Address

7929 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway Townsend TN 37882


865.436.7318 Ext 320