Surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains, set on the shores of Kootenay Lake and clustered with more than 350 heritage buildings, Nelson's storybook charm and stunning scenery create the quintessential small town setting.
In 1867, gold and silver were found in the area and Nelson grew quickly as a result of the frantic mining activity. Dozens of other mining communities sprang up along Kootenay Lake, two railways were routed through Nelson, and noted architect Francis Rattenbury came to design granite-hewn, chateau-style civic buildings. By 1910, Nelson had its own hydro generating station, street cars, a sewer system, and a police force. Englishmen came to plant lakeside orchards, and Russian Doukhobors, sponsored by Tolstoy and the Quakers, tilled the valley benchlands.
In 1979, after 5 generations had each imposed their own style on downtown's Baker Street, local merchants and civic leaders developed a coordinated restoration plan and spent more than $3-million to bring the city's magnificent buildings back to life. A community understanding dawned that these magnificent buildings represented the pioneers' statement of faith in the future of Nelson.
Nelson is located at the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 3A, at the western tip of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, 41 km (26 mi) northeast of Castlegar. Daily service by Greyhound bus and charter/private service by small aircraft to Nelson Airport are available.
The Capitol is Nelson's premiere entertainment centre. It hosts film nights, touring shows, opera, a Christmas show, a summer theatre program for youth, and is a venue for local live theatre and dance.
The Touchstones museum contains displays on Native Peoples, explorers, and settlers of the area, as well as art and history. The museum also maintains an extensive archive of local photography.
Entering Nelson from the east, you will discover Lakeside Park at the edge of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, at the foot of the famous Orange Bridge. Lakeside Park is the pride of Nelson's waterfront: a long, beautiful beach, a wide promenade, and open, green spaces highlight the area. Tennis courts, a bocce ball playing area, public wharf, boat launch, rowing club, greenhouse, and covered picnic shelter make up the main core of the park. There is also an adventure playground for children.
Continuing west, you will discover Nelson's Streetcar #23, whose tracks lead along the waterfront pathway to the loop at Hall Street, and then back through Lakeside Park to another loop at the east entrance. From April to October, you can board Streetcar #23 and ride the circuit for a relaxing, historical tour. Follow the Centennial Pathway along the water, back to the beach to round out your visit to Lakeside.
Cottonwood Falls Park is a unique setting in which to escape the everyday hectic routine. With the falls rumbling in the background, creating a spray and a misty atmosphere, it's easy to see why this park is the choice of many for a mid-day or weekend get-away. Take a minute or two to walk the path leading up to the falls and see for yourself the power of Cottonwood Creek.
The Nelson area is considered by many to have some of the best skiing and snowboarding conditions on the North American continent. Both Ski Canada Magazine and Powder Magazine have declared the area's conditions as superb. People come from all over the world to experience the deep and fluffy powder snow that falls each winter. Whitewater Ski & Winter Resort is the centerpiece for the area, and is consistently ranked as one of the best facilities for skiers and boarders. Located only 20 minutes from downtown Nelson, Whitewater is perfectly situated to maximize your time on the mountain.
For the more adventurous, Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, located in Meadow Creek at the north end of Kootenay Lake, offers the exhilaration of backcountry skiing and virgin powder on every run.
Cross-country skiing is also a very popular winter activity in the Nelson area. The Nelson Nordic Ski Club grooms over 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of trails, for both beginners and intermediate level skiers. The trails are conveniently located near Whitewater Ski Resort and Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. You can also head into the backcountry for some magnificent touring or telemarking.
Nelson has both the terrain and the scenery that make for fantastic hiking. Clear streams, large inland lakes, forest-covered valleys, and wildflowers make this area a hiker's paradise. Wildlife here thrives, so don't be surprised if you encounter deer, elk, moose, caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bears. Both bald and golden eagles fly overhead. There are at least 10 trails close to the city for hiking, biking and snowshoeing.
Eight hiking trails leave from the West Kootenay Visitor Centre and lead through the impressive Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. The park's sandy beach and delta area slopes gently upward to the base of the forested Slocan Range of the Selkirk Mountains. If you are visiting in late summer, be sure to see the remarkable spawning of the Kokanee salmon.
Try taking on Kokanee Glacier Park. This rugged mountain area is open for hiking between July and October. Kokanee Glacier itself is the main attraction and sits at an elevation of 2,775 meters. Various shelters are located throughout the park for overnight use.
Mountain biking in Nelson is the stuff of legend. Showcased in many mountain bike films, Nelson trails offer everything, from gentle railway grades to steep, rooty technical tracks. For the hardcore freestylers there are enough stunts, ladders and big drops to keep the adrenalin pumping long after the last epic ride of the day. With the breathtaking backdrop of the Selkirk Mountains, Nelson's rides take the West Coast style and crank it up a notch.
There are many great rides within 15 minutes from Nelson, including Sproule Creek, the Kootenay Canal to the west of Nelson, and Ledges near Kokanee Creek Park. For those looking for a serious workout, most trails are accessible by bike right from town; otherwise you may want to park at Mountain Station and start your climb from there. If the only climbing you like to do is out of bed in the morning, consider a vehicle drop or ask a local bike shop about shuttles.
Paddlers have a virtually unlimited playground to explore in the Nelson area, thanks to the clear waters of Kootenay Lake. You can access the water right from town. Downstream (west) will draw you through the Grohman Narrows, past the Taghum Bridge and into the mouth of the Kootenay River. This route unfortunately ends after about 15 km (9 mi) when you reach the Corra Linn dam. Upstream opens into a wider, more populated series of bays, with shorelines dotted with magnificent mansions and quaint bungalows. If you go far enough, you will pass Balfour and enter the main body of Kootenay Lake.
For the slightly more intrepid, the south-west and north-east shores of Kootenay Lake are about as far from civilization as most will want to go. The other two shores are fairly populated, although restaurants and supply stores are few and far between. The lake is large here, and the weather unpredictable, so make sure you take extra supplies and precautions.
Other interesting areas to paddle that are a little further away from Nelson include Slocan Lake, the Little Slocan Lakes, the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes, and the Columbia River.
Imagine being out on Kootenay Lake, with rugged, tree-covered mountains surrounding you. You've just settled in after baiting your hook and letting out your line. You're taking in the spectacular scenery, when all of a sudden a fish strikes. But it's no ordinary fish you've just hooked. It's a Gerrard Rainbow, pound for pound one of the toughest fighting fish in the world, and it's not stopping. These monster fish grow to 30 pounds (some locals even suggest there are 50 pounders in the lake) and when one takes your line, you've just landed one of the finest angling experiences you'll ever have.
In addition to the Gerrard Rainbow, Kootenay Lake is home to Dolly Varden, Bull Trout, and Kokanee Salmon. The Kokanee spawn every August and you can see this marvelous event at Kokanee Creek and other small tributaries in the area. The Canadian record for a Bull Trout is 29.5 pounds, so the Gerrard Rainbows aren't the only monsters in the lake. You can also find plenty of cutthroat in the streams and smaller lakes that abound throughout the backcountry, so grab your hiking boots and head into the unspoiled beauty of the mountains for an unforgettable fishing experience.
If you would like to fish from a boat but didn't bring your own, fishing gear is available for rent, or you can book a charter.
Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Centre
225 Hall Street
Nelson, BC V1L 5X4
Toll Free: 1-877-663-5706