For a small city of 10,000 perched on the side of mountain, Nelson, British Columbia delivers an amazing range of activities. The following are 10 things you’ll want to do. They include everything from outdoor adventures through to the arts, galleries, culture and dining.
Nelson started as a camp providing services to miners involved in the silver rush. The city grew quickly and by the early 1900’s was home to several hotels, many beautiful public buildings, churches and homes – many of which can be seen on a historical walking tour today.
Here are 10 things you can do in Nelson, BC – in just 24 hours
Get your caffeine fix
Head for Oso Negro Café, a fixture on the Nelson scene since 1993. Hopefully you’ll get a sunny day so you can sit outside with your coffee and homemade baked good, surrounded by flowers and listening to the water gurgle out of fountains. Timing is everything as it is popular, Be prepared for lineups.
Hike to Pulpit Rock
While it’s still cool, head for the Pulpit Rock trailhead on the north side of the lake. Do the steep 1.8 kilometre hike and you’ll really feel like you’ve earned the best view in town.
Once at Pulpit Rock you also get a sense of how the town of Nelson is laid out. And you get a great view of Kootenay Lake. For those wanting even more of a workout continue steeply up the Flagpole Trail and do a 2 kilometre loop.
Still want more? Take the 3.3 kilometre one way CBC Tower Trail and then carefully retrace your steps all the way down. Expect the Pulpit Rock hike to take 60 – 90 minutes depending on how long you linger on top.
Go out for lunch
Head to Baker Street for lunch and choose of the many independent cafes or restaurants – preferably with an outdoor patio. Cantina del Centro, a Mexican restaurant was highly recommended to us but we decided on another caffeine hit, this time at Empire Coffee beside the Adventure Hotel. Both coffee and baked goods were first rate.
Do the Heritage Walking Tour of Nelson
Plan to spend the next few hours doing the Heritage Walking Tour. There are over 350 heritage buildings in Nelson – an incredible number for a town of its size. The map put out by the Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (visit the museum if you have time) describes 33 buildings with the bulk of them located on Baker Street between Kootenay and Hall Streets.
Most of the buildings hail from the early 1900’s. You’ll see architecture running the gamut from Edwardian Classical with Richardsonian Romanesque features (McCullough Building) to Beaux Art Classical Revival in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal buildings.
Mission Revival is in evidence in the Wood Valance Building and Queen Anne Commercial in the Houston block. Check out Bellamy’s Grocery to see Boomtown Wooden False Front architecture. Combined they add a tremendous amount of colour and character to the city.
Support the locals – aka shop
Shoppers will enjoy wandering through the diverse selection of boutiques found on Baker Street. Housewares, book, sport and clothing stores – most with an artistic bent will all vie for your shopping dollar.
Wander the Uphill Neighbourhood
After the heritage tour we decided to tackle the Uphill neighbourhood running behind Nelson’s downtown core to see what we’d find. The overriding impression was one of awe.
It’s incredibly steep. And in summer lots of colourful houses with flower gardens filled to the brim will stop you in your tracks. Looking at the streets made me wonder how anyone can get around in the winter after a snowstorm. I concluded that you skied or tobogganed into town!!
Check out the waterfront – by kayak or SUP
It’s a very pleasant walk from downtown Nelson to the waterfront. If the weather had cooperated we would have rented kayaks and seen the city in another light. There is also the option to rent paddleboards at the Prestige Marina.
Go for a bike ride – perhaps on an e-bike
Mountain biking in Nelson is the stuff of legend. People come from all over to bike the trails, not only in town but nearby. Visit Gerick Cycle and Ski in downtown Nelson. They’ve been around for a long time and have all sorts of local advice to offer on where to best use your time based on how you like to ride.
They can also rent you a bike – whether it’s a regular mountain bike or an e-bike. John and I tried e-bikes here for the first time and I have to say we had a blast. They also help to dispatch with the hills that Nelson is justly famous for. We rode a section of the Trans-Canada Trail on rail-grade as far as Cottonwood Lake. Allow a couple of hours to do that.
Visit Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
Another one of the top things to do in Nelson is to visit Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. It’s only a 20 minute drive from the downtown. Don’t forget your bathing suit as it’s home to over a kilometre of beautiful sandy beach. Swimming is excellent as is the paddleboarding. Rent one on the beach.
Between August 15 and September 30 the park is also where you can see Kokanee salmon spawning. An elevated boardwalk allows an up-close view of the salmon in the spawning channel. Visit the BC Parks website before you visit as special regulations are in place to minimize bear – human interaction during the salmon run.
Go out for dinner in Nelson
The All Seasons Cafe called Nelson’s hippest back alley bistro is a treat to visit. Our table on a back patio made me feel like I’d been transported to Europe but my meal – a swoon-worthy piece of fresh halibut with Thai red curry carrot puree took me to BC’s west coast.
Both my husband and I were in awe at the calibre and sophistication of the restaurants in Nelson. For a small town the locals are very lucky to have such quality – and variety.
Where to stay in Nelson, BC
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Nelson offers lots of great choices when it comes to accommodation.
At the Adventure Hotel you’ll find modern rooms in a variety of configurations at a very good price. Another top choice is the historic Hume Hotel, built in 1898. Both locations are within a block or two of fabulous restaurants and the wonderful Baker Street.
Nelson offers both adventure loving and cultural travelers plenty of reasons to visit. When are you going?
Other posts related to this trip to the Kootenays you might enjoy:
- 5 of the Best Things to do Near Nelson, BC
- Logden Lodge: Private Luxury in the Kootenay Mountains
- The Stunning Hike to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin
Thank you to Kootenay Rockies Tourism for hosting my stay. All thoughts and opinions AS ALWAYS are my own.