The Getaway
20 Things to Do in and Around Nelson, BC

Travel 400 miles east of Van City, and you'll land smack dab in the middle of a free-spirited counterculture haven. Nelson in Central Kootenay has been called the prettiest small town in Canada. It hugs the Selkirk Mountains along the powder highway, has a thriving arts and food scene, and is within range of some lovely hot springs. Pull up a calendar, and you'll find an assortment of festivals to get the good vibes going. Nelson also operates with one eye on the future—the town has made substantial strides in becoming more sustainable, and eco-tourism is booming.

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01 Unveiling the hippie heritage

Towns don't get more boho than Nelson, BC. Sure, it was founded during an 1897 silver rush. But an influx of pacifist Russian Dukhobors some twenty years later had a remarkable influence on the area. Draft-dodging Americans fled to the town during the Vietnam War, so it's no surprise that you can trace the roots of local hippie culture back to the 60s and 70s. Visit for troubadours on street corners, a history of communes, and decades of knowledge about cannabis.

02 Strolling through historic Baker Street

The historic buildings with businesses, shops and cafes along Baker Street in the town center of Nelson, BC, Canada, in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. Mr.Nikon / Shutterstock.com

Baker Street is architecturally beautiful, with restored heritage buildings and culturally vibrant. It's the bustling heart of Nelson, where you can stay, shop, dine, sip, and gossip. Retailers lean local, and you can pick up a colorful assortment of quirky wares from various boutiques. On the west end, you'll find a visitor center with ideas for your getaway itinerary. There's no getting bored here.

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03 Nelson's flourishing art community

Nelson has a dynamic art scene, which is no surprise considering its large hippie contingent. The town is bursting with creative types, and you can find out what's on their mind at several galleries and art centers. The Nelson Museum Archives and Gallery downtown is chief among them. Craft Connection is a renowned gift gallery you could easily spend a couple of hours in—its shelves are laden with gorgeous handmade items to tickle the fancy of interior decorators and souvenir seekers alike. Nelson ArtWalk is a decades-old annual arts celebration to look forward to in summer.

04 Sustainability at Nelson's core

As far as green initiatives go, Nelson is committed to eco-friendly practices. The town supports businesses in making green swaps. It focuses its efforts on energy efficiency, waste diversion, and the reduction of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions. It also educates locals on the effects of climate change and adapting in response to the pros and cons. Nelson isn't just paying lip service to these ideas but working toward specific goals and tracking progress.

05 The heart of coffee in Nelson

Coffee shops keep Nelson and its residents buzzing. The cafe culture here is top-notch, with more coffee shops per capita than anywhere else in the province. Even if you're not particularly inclined toward java, the tea drinking here is next level too. So take a minute or thirty to slow down and drink up. Spots like Oso Negro Cafe will prepare you a solid cup of Joe, and How Shang Shway Tea House will hook you up with your preferred chai.

06 Savoring Nelson's culinary delights

Foodies, prepare your tastebuds for the local food scene. Here's a factoid for you—Nelson has more restaurants per capita than in food-obsessed San Francisco. Organic, seasonal ingredients and award-winning chefs make a happy marriage indeed. The fare is diverse and runs the gamut from Vietnamese banh mi at Yum Son and Texas BBQ at elegant Broken Hill to tacos from Cantina Del Centro. For farm-to-table dishes, try Pitchfork Eatery.

07 Adventures in the great outdoors

Hike to Pulpit Rock, go kayaking at the waterfront, or put your mountain bike to the test on part of the Trans Canada Trail. You'll run out of steam before you run out of outdoorsy recreational pursuits. Enjoy climbing? Grab yourself a copy of The West Kootenay Rock Guide Book for 400 routes to tackle in relatively mild weather. What about golfing? You'll love Granite Point, Balfour Golf Course, and Kokanee Springs Resort.

08 Carving the slopes at Whitewater

Whitewater Ski Resort's exceptional snow quality keeps skiing enthusiasts coming back for more. Come check out Canada's best powder mountain for yourself. You'll find long, challenging runs, exciting drops, short lift line waits, and skiing for all levels except maybe the very green. This resort is laidback with super friendly staff, easy parking, and excellent food at the main lodge—it's arguably the region's best-kept secret.

09 Soothing soaks at Ainsworth Hot Springs

Come winter or summer, Ainsworth Hot Springs is open for a restorative dip in its cozy and cold pools. Only 50 or so people live in the town, which makes it feel like a real escape from the hubbub of the big cities. The hot springs here don't let off the stinky smell associated with sulfur-rich waters, so you can savor the enveloping warmth without wrinkling your nose. A 150-foot natural horseshoe cave adds to the rustic ambiance.

10 Wilderness of Kokanee Glacier Park

Mountain landscape of a calm, idyllic alpine reflection on Gibson Lake at sunset or sunrise at Kokanee Glacier Park, in the Kootenays of British Columbia, Canada.

For alpine views, creatures great and small, and hiking trails for days, Kokanee Glacier Park will appeal to the part of you yearning for a connection with nature. You may encounter bears, so being well-versed in safety protocols is worth the admin. You'll likely stumble across mountain goats (sans lonely goatherds), pikas, martins, hoary marmots, ptarmigans, and birds of prey. For an easy hike, do the 1.5-hour walk between Woodbury Creek and Sunset Lake, and for a more challenging trek, consider the 5-hour Lemon Creek to Sapphire Lakes trail.

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11 Festival vibes in Nelson

For almost half the year, it feels like there's a festival happening every weekend in the region, so you'll find something to leave the house for wherever your interests lie. An annual harvest festival in the fall features chili, pie, and squash contests. The Nelson International Mural Festival in August is all about large-scale public art and street flair. Canada Day revelry takes place at Rotary Lakeside Park. When the cold season strikes, the good times continue with Kaslo Winter in the Forest. Music lovers can pencil Shambhala and the Kaslo Jazz Festival into their diaries.

12 Championing nature's cause

For starters, Kootenay Cycling Adventures plants a tree for every six or so miles bikers cover, and the Kootenay Co-Op is the most successful indie natural food co-op in the country. In terms of accommodation, Nelson has two certified green hotels: the Prestige Lakeside Resort and the Best Western Baker Street Inn. Then you have ROAM, an eco-tour operator based in Nelson that provides services abroad, too.

13 Paddleboarding on pristine Kootenay Lake

Beautiful Kootenay Lake is a two-thumbs-up kind of stand-up paddleboarding spot, with paddlers passing by waterfront homes and tucked-away beaches. You can carry your gear or rent equipment from the Nelson and District Community Complex during summer, or head on over to Prestige Lakeside Resort. Set off from Rotary Lakeside Park with some snacks in a little backpack, and you'll be merrily rowing your boat under the orange bridge in no time. Take a swim break, and have a fab lunch at the Rose Garden Cafe.

14 A mosaic of cultures

Nelson and its neighboring towns are part of the ancestral territory of the Sinixt, the Ktunaxa, the Métis, and other Indigenous peoples. The Ktunaxa Interpretive Center, the Nelson Museum and Archive, and Selkirk College offer opportunities to learn more about these diverse cultures spanning 10,000-plus years.

15 Discovering Kaslo's historical gems

Kaslo, the "Little Switzerland" of Canada, is an ideal spot for a day trip from Nelson. It's only an hour away by car and has bucketloads of charm. Sail away into the annals with a visit to the SS Moyie, or visit the Langham Cultural Center to peruse local art and learn more about Japanese internment during WW2.

16 Brewing traditions in Nelson

Nelson's brewing scene is as rich and vibrant as its coffee culture, with local breweries crafting beers that capture the essence of the Kootenays. At the heart of this hoppy revolution is the Nelson Brewing Company, a staple since 1991, which prides itself on organic, handcrafted beers. Their lineup, featuring the Faceplant winter ale and the Hooligan Pilsner, is a testament to Nelson's adventurous spirit. But it's not just about the beer; it's about the community that gathers around it. Breweries like Backroads Brewing Company on Baker Street offer a cozy spot to mingle with locals, share stories, and sip on a flight of beers that taste like nowhere else on earth. Whether you're a stout enthusiast or a lager lover, Nelson's breweries provide a warm welcome with a cold pint.

17 Trailblazing on mountain bikes

Nelson is kind of a big deal in mountain biking circles. MTB newbies can start at the Kootenay Canal, but those with more experience will want to head for Ledges or the Mountain Station. Local bike shops sell trail map guides and sprinkle in some friendly advice, but Trail Forks provides all the deets online. Group rides leave from Gerick Cycle and Ski.

18 Embracing the winter wonderland

There's icy winter fun beyond traditional skiing, and Nelson knows this all too well. The town is a magnet for snowboarders, cross-country skiers, heli-skiers, and cat skiers. Snowshoe trails include Big Cedar Loop, Wetland Loop, and the Euphrates Extension. Try ice climbing and glacier trekking at Pulpit Peak or Kokanee Park, or go fishing for Dolly Varden at Kootenay Lake.

19 Nestling in Nelson's cozy corners

Besides Nelson's two certified green hotels, it's worth mentioning the Bear Springs Eco Retreat for an environmentally-friendly vacation. The retreat offers glamping and a 300-acre mountain property to explore. Blaylock Mansion, another accommodation option by the water, is close to a century old and features trees you'd be hard-pressed to find in Western Canada. Alternatively, stay within shouting distance of Baker Street at the Cloudside Hotel, a fine example of the town's Victorian architecture.

20 Crafting the ultimate Nelson journey

Nelson is a recognized winter sports hub and a commendable year-round destination, but the months between June and August are arguably the best time to visit. The warmer weather makes everyone more sprightly, and the town switches into a jubilant mode with frequent festivals. In between pursuing your particular interests, chill by the waterfront, dine on farm-to-table food at Pitchfork Eatery, find the pep in your step with the help of Oso Negro Cafe, and go treasure hunting on Baker Street.

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