Explore Nelson

Explore Nelson
Nothing beats waking up to crisp mountain air in a beautiful historic town, surrounded by some of the best British Columbia scenery there is. Nelson, is a small town that has an enormous heart with a friendly and inviting attitude that lures thousands visitors each year.

Nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, Nelson is one of the most picturesque towns in all of British Columbia. Known as being a quaint historic town, it is also known for having some of the best mountain bike trails in BC. Of course, there is also another side of Nelson, which is the hippy, pot smoking, granola loving crowd too. Quite honestly, Nelson would not be the same without this diversity.

Kooteney Lake
Nelson Bridge
Marmot in Kokanee Glacier National Park

Places to Visit in Nelson

  • Kootenay Lake
  • Kokanee Glacier
  • Nelson Museum
  • Baker Street
  • Pulpit Rock
  • Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
  • Troop Beach

Unique Things to See and Do in Nelson

  • Ski the best BC snow at the Waterwater Ski Resort
  • Take a kayaking course
  • Hike the rails to trails systems on the old Burlington Northern
  • Raft the Salmo River
  • Shop along the historic Baker Street
  • Take a lakeshore ride on Streetcar #23
  • Stay at Mountain Trek’s luxury Health Spa & Fitness Retreat

A Snapshot of Nelson’s History

The first people to this area date all the way back to 2000 years ago, with evidence found along the shores of the West Arm of the Kootenay River. The “Kootenay Indians” were presumed to have survived on the abundance of animals, berries, and fish for many years, but as food sources dwindled they moved on.

Many explorers passed through the area during the trading times of Hudson Bay Company, but it wasn’t until the gold rush of 1876 at Forty-nine Creek (9 miles west of Nelson) that miners started to flood in. In 1897, the City of Nelson was formed and plots of land were being developed for residential. The city was close to the mining areas, making it easier to commute, and by the early 1900’s the Hudson’s Bay store moved in, the streetcar was constructed, and English and Russian settlers started developing the lands – mainly orchards.

What makes Nelson so unique has been the restorative efforts to maintain the old High Victorian architectural styles of the downtown buildings. One of the best ways to learn about the history is to take a walking tour of the historic buildings and homes in the area.

With all this history you wouldn’t presume that Nelson is also considered a very liberal, hippie sort of town. Well, it is. The hippie generation of Vietnam War draft dodgers settled in the area during the 1960’s. Heading up from the United States, the Kootenay forests provided a perfect location for “cash crops” of marijuana as income support until they could start working after gaining citizenship. The draft dodgers came from all sorts of backgrounds, some hippie and some conservative, but mainly all with a common goal of supporting the local economy. Many are still there today. The most popular belief is that everyone is a hippie, pot-smoking, ski bum, but that is only part of the picture. The city’s laid-back, outdoor lifestyle comes with a strong community feel and many urbanites have moved into the area and opened up thriving businesses.

Did you know…?

Did you know that actor Steve Martin filmed the movie Roxanne (1986) in Nelson.

Steve Martin

Did you ALSO know…?

The annual electronic music festival, Shambhala is held near Nelson and is  one of the largest electronic music events in Canada!

Shambhala Music Festival

Getting Around Nelson

Getting around Nelson is pretty easy since the town is fairly small and compact. It has a walkable downtown with plenty of boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Nelson has a huge cycling community but most cyclists are geared towards mountain biking, but it also a great way to get around town. That being said, most of Nelson is built on a hill so if riding uphill or even walking up hill is not in your cards then a car is needed to get around. Plus, the outlying areas of the city offer some beautiful day hikes.

Overall, travelling to Nelson by car is the best option, particularly if you want to explore the beautiful scenic nature that lies around the town, and trust us, you do!

Travelling to Nelson

Most people chose to drive to Nelson, which is 657km east of Vancouver and 102km north of the US-Canada Border. If you have the time to drive out there during the summer do it.

British Columbia is beautiful with plenty of little towns to visit along the way. Take Hwy#1 to Crowsnest Hwy #3, through the lower Okanagan Valley, past Osoyoos, Grand Forks, Christina Lake, Castlegar and onto Nelson. There are plenty of stops along the way, and if you’re travelling through summer there are many wineries and fruits stands.

Driving through the winter requires winter tires and/or chains through the windy mountain passes. If you’re not driving, you take the Greyhound bus into Nelson, or fly to Castlegar with a small domestic plane on Air Canada and then drive into Nelson from there.

Best Time of Year to Travel to Nelson

Honestly, it depends on what activities you like to do. The summers are simply breathtaking with all the natural beauty surrounding the town providing a perfect backdrop for all the outdoor festivals, lake sports, sunbathing, and the revered mountain biking trials. Summers can be warm averaging a daily temperature 16°C to 19°C with highs of 24°C to 28°C, and record highs have reached as high as 40°C during the months of June, July, and August.

Winters are for skiing, Nordic and alpine, and it’s a snowmobiling mecca. Temperatures range between 4°C and -4°C with lows of -8°C. The higher in altitude you climb, the cooler it will be. This area has also seen extreme record lows of -30°C in December, January, and February.

Ready to plan your visit to Nelson? Check out these popular guides and trips.

Join GuideAdvisor Now.
3 great reasons!

Sign up now. It's easy!

I'm a traveler I'm a Guide