Nelson is a lovely village in the Kootenays and a must-visit on any British Columbia road trip. Located in a beautiful valley along the banks of Kootenay Lake, the majestic peaks of the Selkirk mountains tower over this charming Canadian town.
It may be only a small town (11.000 residents) but there are many things to do in Nelson BC. With a rich heritage, an incredibly varied food and coffee scene, hiking trails, and many other outdoor activities, it’s easy to spend at least a couple of days in Nelson.
Be warned though, you might end up staying a lot longer as the town has such a relaxed vibe you won’t want to leave.
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Things to do in Nelson BC
What to do in Nelson BC: map
What is the best time to visit Nelson BC?
While Nelson is a year-round destination, the most popular time to visit Nelson is between June and August. During these months, the days are long and (mostly) sunny, and temperatures are comfortable (15-23°). The summer season is perfect for the many outdoor activities Nelson and the surrounding area have to offer.
May and September are nice months to visit Nelson as well, while temperatures are a bit lower you will get to admire beautiful flowers in Spring and the leaves turning color in Autumn.
The winter months are cold in Nelson, but if you are a fan of winter activities (like many people in Canada) this can be a wonderful time to plan a trip to Nelson.
Where to stay in Nelson BC?
There are plenty of accommodation options in Nelson, suitable for any budget.
Camping is a great option if you love the outdoors as much as we do and you’ve got your own campervan or rented one. There are many beautiful campgrounds around Nelson, the Nelson City Campground is just a 5-minute walk from Baker Street.
If you’re looking for a nice hostel or hotel, there are several excellent options (the accommodations below are all rated 9+ on Booking).
Do a house-sit via Trusted Housesitters
We did a house-sit in Nelson via Trusted Housesitters and loved spending a couple of days in one place (instead of staying at a different campsite every night). We immediately fell in love with Nelson, it’s such a nice town…
If you love animals, house sitting can be a great option. However, please note that Trusted Housesitters is not a platform to find free accommodation. A good house sitter is someone who is looking to stay in an area for a longer period of time while taking excellent care of someone’s pets and house.
Check out Trusted Housesitters for more information.
12 great Nelson BC attractions and sights
Note: All prices quoted in this post (entrance fees, etc.) are in Canadian Dollars. I try my utmost to keep this information up to date but please check the official websites of the places included in the article before visiting.
1. Explore the city center
Founded as a mining town in the late 19th century, Nelson has done a great job in preserving its many heritage buildings. The Railway Station, Courthouse, and Firehall are just a few examples of the landmarks found in this pretty town. On this map, you can find all heritage sites in Nelson and the town of Kaslo (70 km from Nelson.
Nelson has a lively city center, with Baker Street at its core. Here you can find many shops, restaurants, and bars. I personally love the cozy Otter Books store (398 Baker Street) with their extensive collection and friendly staff. John Ward Fine Coffee is a great place to grab a cappuccino and a snack.
2. Visit the Touchstones Museum
The Touchstones Museum is the place to go when you want to learn about the history of Nelson and its surroundings. There are exhibits about the First People (Sinixt and Ktunaxa nations) as well as information about Nelson’s mining history and the development of the first hydroelectric power plants in the province.
The entrance fee is $8 and the museum is opened daily during the summer months (in winter it’s closed on Mondays).
3. Ride the electric tram
One of the most fun things to do in Nelson is riding the electric tram. Streetcars have been in use in Nelson since 1898 when the first streetcar was installed at the top of Stanley Street.
Nelson’s Streetcar #23 has been in operation since 1924 and runs between the Prestige Lakeside Resort and the Rose Garden Cafe. For a mere $3.00 you can enjoy a lovely ride along the water and through the park.
If you want to learn more about Nelson’s streetcar history, head to the Tramway Society Museum located in Lakeside Park (#4).
4. Have a picnic in Rotary Lakeside Park
Lakeside Park is one of the best places to visit in Nelson. Located just north of downtown, at the foot of the iconic BOB (Big Orange Bridge, aka Nelson Bridge), it’s where locals and visitors go to relax, go for a swim, read a book, or play a game of volleyball.
Or, if you’re hungry, get a wrap, salad, or poutine from the Rose Garden Cafe and have a picnic!
5. Get out on the water
Nelson lies on the banks of the west arm of Kootenay Lake and therefore offers plenty of water sports such as canoeing, paddling, kayaking, boating, and fishing.
Adventurous travelers can enjoy white water rafting on the Slocan, Salmo and Lardeau rivers in the beautiful Kootenay Lake area.
6. Hike the Pulpit Rock trail
This popular and rewarding 3.6km trail (round trip) takes about an hour each way and leads to Pulpit Rock. The starting point is the parking lot at Johnstone Road.
You’ll be ascending approximately 340 meters but your effort will be rewarded with a beautiful view over Nelson town and its surroundings.
If you want you can continue to Flagpole, though you’ll be ascending another 315 meters. A round trip to Flagpole is 5.8 kilometers and takes about three hours.
7. Go mountain biking
For those who love a bit of adventure and adrenaline, there are many mountain bike trails in the Kootenay area. No matter if you are a skilled rider or if you never went downhill biking before, there are trails suitable for any level of experience. You can find an overview of the trails here.
8. Hit the slopes
Just 22 kilometers from Nelson, you can find great downhill skiing at the Whitewater Ski Resort. What the resort lacks in size, it more than makes up for with beautiful slopes and a wide range of facilities.
For those not into skiing, there are several multi-use trails for nordic skiing and snowshoeing as well.
You can either drive to the slopes yourself or, if you’re not a confident winter driver, hop on the Whitewater Ski Resort Shuttle which operates every day during the ski season.
9. Relax in the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort
Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort is unique as the springs have been used by the Ktunaxa people for their restorative properties for ages. The warm water originates in Cody Caves and contains many minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sodium.
The commercial development of the springs started in the 1920s and throughout the years, several renovations have taken place.
Nowadays Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort is a modern resort and spa and highly worth a visit when you’re exploring the Kootenays. Entry is $14 and the Springs are open year-round from 10 am until 9 pm. From Nelson, it’s about a 45-minute drive to Ainsworth.
10. Visit the SS Moyie
One of the best things to do near Nelson BC is visiting the S.S. Moyie, the oldest passenger sternwheeler in the world that is still intact. This National Historic Site and British Columbia Historic Landmark can be found in Kaslo, about 70 kilometers from Nelson.
Nowadays the S.S. Moyie is a museum, but this beautiful sternwheeler was in use for 59 years and carried railway passengers from Kootenay Landing to the towns of Nelson and Procter.
The ship is kept in pristine condition and inside there are many historical objects on display. If you’re lucky you can even blow the ship’s steam whistle! The entrance fee for the S.S. Moyie is $12, opening hours are from 10 am to 4:15 pm daily.
11. Taste locally brewed craft beer
Nelson is known for its craft beer scene and there are several local breweries. Nelson Brewing Company is the most well-known, this organic brewery has won several awards with its Hooligan Organic Pilsner and brews many other types of beers, ales, and IPAs.
Besides being served at quite a few local restaurants and bars, beers from Nelson Brewing Company are also available across British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
Torchlight Brewery is another great place for a pint, the owners are on a mission to create the most delicious and innovative craft beers around. They have a tasting lounge and beers with funky names like Rhubarbarian and Cyber Mammoth on tap. Torchlight Brewery also serves up some tasty dishes to go along your drink.
12. Grab a bite at one of the many restaurants
No matter if you’re craving Indian, Mexican, steak or Italian, there are plenty of options for dinner in Nelson.
For a taste of the Southeast Indian cuisine, head to Kootenay Tamil Kitchen, one of the best restaurants in Nelson BC (rated #1 on Tripadvisor).
Meatlovers can get their fix at Jackson’s Hole & Grill (try the Steak Sandwich or Jackson’s Loaded Burger) while those who looking for a tasty burrito, taco, or quesadilla will love Cantina Del Centro.
How to get to Nelson BC?
By car or campervan
In my personal opinion, the best way to get to Nelson and to explore the surrounding area is by car. The Provincial Parks surrounding Nelson are stunning and driving here from Vancouver (8 hours) or Calgary (6.5 hours) makes for a wonderful scenic road trip.
We bought a van in Vancouver which we converted into a small campervan and drove around Canada and the U.S.A. for five months. However, if you don’t plan for such a long trip it’s easier to rent a car or a campervan (as buying and selling a car takes a fair bit of time).
You can also get to Nelson by bus from Vancouver (via Kelowna) and from Calgary (via Kaslo). Read more information here.
Nelson BC things to do: in conclusion
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to Nelson and will fall as much in love with this beautiful town in the Kootenays as I did. Feel free to ask any questions you may have! You can leave a comment below or send me a message.
If you are looking for more Canada travel inspiration, check out my Canada page where you can find all the posts I’ve written about this wonderful country.