If you’re headed to the coolest hippie town in Canada, you’re in for a treat! There are tons of interesting things to do in Nelson, BC unlike any other community you’ve visited. Whether you’re an outdoor adventure seeker, a coffee snob, craft beer connoisseur, a hippie at heart or just love to explore enchanting cities, you will find it all here.
Nestled in the heart of the west Kootenay region of British Columbia and on the edge of the Selkirk Mountains lies the sleepy, laid back town of Nelson.
Driving here makes you feel quite secluded. No matter what direction you come from, long windy roads cut through the thick forest before your arrival in this once-booming silver mining community.
The remnants of a boomtown still remain, though. As you descend into the valley, the historic charm is ever present, giving birth to the eclectic vibe around town.
The old heritage homes sit up in the hills, almost San Francisco-like. The colors are vibrant and edgy but the pace is slow.
Nelson is most known for being an outdoor recreation mecca and the closest city to the Shambala Music Festival.
This beautiful riverfront community still maintains that small town feel, unadulterated by commercialized corporate store facades.
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Where is Nelson, BC
I think Nelson has remained in its own world because of its relatively secluded location. For instance, it’s an 8 hour drive from Vancouver.
Or, a 7 hour drive from Calgary, Alberta. But, it’s only a 3 hour drive from Spokane, Washington.
Yes, Nelson is located so far south that it’s only 40 miles to the United States border. Chances are, you will be driving to get here, but any road in is gorgeous.
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How Long You Should Plan to Stay
I’d recommend at least 2 or 3 days to fully enjoy and appreciate Nelson, its beauty and its culture. Grab a hotel or an Airbnb for a few nights and then go exploring.
It is, however, possible to soak up the culture and a few fun things to do if you only have 24 hours to spare.
Where to Stay in Nelson
The Adventure Hotel was perfect for us. It’s walking distance to shops and restaurants downtown, and has the most amazing coffee shop around the corner.
It’s been recently renovated (shower was awesome) and there’s a cool rooftop patio with a sauna.
We also loved our stay at modern re-modelled barn that we found on Airbnb just outside of town (6 minute drive or a cheap taxi ride).
If you’re in the area for a couple nights or more, enjoy a little more breathing space out here in your own cabin and enjoy an outdoor campfire and a visit to the A-frame sauna on the property!
Before you book, be sure to read my guide about how to guarantee the perfect Airbnb (or other vacation rental) every time.
Things to Do in Nelson, BC
Wander Around Historic Baker Street
Baker Street is the main downtown street, choc full of old building facades, artisan shops and great restaurants.
It’s only a few blocks in length, so plan to spend 2 or 3 leisurely hours strolling the store fronts, stopping in for a cold brew coffee when you pass one of the many cute coffee shops.
John Ward Fine Coffee is a neat little place, complete with a cute outdoor sidewalk patio. People watching in Nelson is highly recommended; there are definitely some interesting people here!
While on Baker Street, practice your photography skills. You can get some artsy photos with little effort, as all the old building facades are so unique. Admire the old buildings and be transported back in time.
Go on a Walking Mural Tour
Speaking of great photo spots, Nelson is full of amazing murals all around town. Every year in mid-August is the Nelson International Mural Festival where fresh murals are painted around town by renowned local and international artists.
But don’t worry if you’re not visiting on this particular weekend, they stay up all year round.
Do Your Own Instagrammable Walls Photo Shoot
In town with your friends or on a girls weekend getaway? One of my favorite things to do every time I’m in Nelson is to find fun facades and “Instagrammable” walls and do a photo shoot!
There are so many colors, patterns and textures that make for perfect Insta-worthy shots. It’s an excellent way to explore town and have some fun.
Admire the Old Heritage Homes
Another great way to explore the city is to get your comfy shoes on and hit the residential streets. This place is full of old heritage homes that are beautifully set among the hills.
Founded in the late 1800s, the community got its economic boom from the silver mine operation. In the years that followed, hydro and forestry became big industry and Nelson was the place to be.
There are some incredible homes built during that time that still remain today.
While you’re at it, hit some garage sales! If you love treasure hunting, you’ll love doing it in Nelson. Many residents here are artists or have eclectic tastes, so you can find some really neat stuff.
I walked away with a cute purse for two dollars and several adorable potted plants.
Take a Ride on an Old Streetcar!
Head back in time when you walk on board a fully restored (and working) streetcar from the 1920s! Service runs every day in the summer and it’s a great way to leisurely check out the sites near the beach and Lake Side Park.
Try All the Best Coffee
I mentioned earlier that if you’re a coffee snob, you’ll love Nelson. The town is littered with an amazing selection of cafes serving up some of the best coffee or espresso.
Oso Negro is another popular one and Empire Coffee has the cutest patio.
Hit the Skatepark
Whether you skateboard or not, the Nelson skatepark is a cool place to hang out. Since there’s an internationally renowned ski resort minutes from town, a lot of the locals skateboard in the summertime.
The town is full of local talent that are always at the park, stop by for a few minutes and watch some cool tricks! The park is also the start of some great trails in the area for a nice hike as well.
Hike to Pulpit Rock
Speaking of hiking, head across the big orange bridge (referred to as ‘BOB’ by the locals) and make your way to the Pulpit Rock trail head.
After you cross the bridge, turn left onto Johnstone Road for a few minutes. After it curves to the right you will see a small area with cars parked and the entrance sign for the trail head.
It’s not the easiest hike, but there are hiking sticks left at the beginning of the trail to help you along.
Follow the trail all the way up to the top and you will be rewarded with stunning views overlooking the lake, the airport and the entire town.
The Pulpit Rock hike is a must-do activity when visiting Nelson.
Grab some retro Ice Cream
After your hike, on your way back into town you’ll pass by a vintage walk up Dairy Queen. Grab some ice cream and have a seat under the misters!
Watch planes take off
The airport is right in town and since it’s such a narrow valley, it’s quite the approach. Grab a seat on the outdoor patio at Finley’s Bar and Grill and have a front row view of the take offs and landings.
While you’re there, sample the many local craft beers. There are some good ones! Or head down to the trails by the marina and look up.
Chill at the Beach
Nelson gets hot and what better way to cool down than hitting the beach and jumping in the
chilly refreshing Kootenay Lake.
The main beach at Lake Side Park is decent, but all the locals head to 5 Mile Beach. This one is way better!
Head across the bridge again and stay on what turns into Highway 3A. Pay attention to the signs along the way because you will see 1 mile, 3 mile and eventually 5 mile.
There isn’t much parking on the side of the road, so find a spot where you can.
Then it’s a little hidden trail/walkway through the bushes in between two bed and breakfast properties.
Get out of Town
Plan to spend at least one day doing a day trip to visit some other great attractions in the area.
Still on Highway 3A, head to Fletcher Falls. A short hike off the highway will reward you with some pretty impressive falls.
It’s a little steep in certain sections, but there’s a wooden boardwalk viewing platform. Found right in the middle of a dense, mossy forest, these falls are definitely worth a pit stop.
Visit Picture Perfect Kaslo
Keep heading north until you hit the adorable small town of Kaslo. The mainstreet has been all cleaned up and each building facade has been redone to reflect the old timey feel of a once booming mining town.
Kaslo is also home to the S.S. Moyie, the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler. Quite impressive up close.
Hit the Hot Springs
On your way back, spend the evening at the Ainsworth Hot Springs. This is one of my favorite of the developed hot springs pools in British Columbia.
Here they have the large hot springs pool, but they’ve also left the natural cave that’s carved into the mountain. You literally get to wade through a cave of steaming hot mineral water in the side of a mountain.
Pretty epic and worth spending a couple of hours as the sun goes down.
Ride the World’s Longest Free Ferry
Yep, to get across Kootenay Lake from Balfour to Kootenay Bay, you’ve got to take a ferry. You just line up at the end of the road and drive you car onto the ferry.
It’s a great way to see the area from the water and really get an idea of the impressive landscape. It’s about a 30 minute ride.
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