The town of Nelson British Columbia towards the east of the province is one of the larger towns in the Kootenays and is also one of BC’s best mountain towns.
We spent a few days exploring the town during a longer eastern BC road trip in the Kootenays and discovered so many Nelson things to do that we ended up going back not that long after.
Nelson is surrounded by mountains and is also known as the “Queen City” as a result of the huge number of heritage buildings found throughout it.
With incredible food, beautiful surroundings, and a laid-back vibe, Nelson is the ideal place for a long weekend getaway or an extended stop-off on a Kootenay road trip.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Nelson BC, you’ll find them below!
Table of Contents
Best Things to do in Nelson BC Canada
There is no shortage of top things to do in Nelson BC whether you’re visiting Nelson in winter or summer. If you love getting outdoors you’ll love this small town!
1. Pulpit Rock Hike
The Pulpit Rock trail is likely the most popular hike in Nelson. It’s a short but steep climb up to a viewpoint that looks across the Nelson Kootenay Lake and down onto the town of Nelson. In a way, it’s like a mini Grouse Grind.
We did this hike early one morning and there were already plenty of people on the trail. It took around 50 minutes in total for the return trip plus some time sat at the top enjoying the views and watching the airplanes take off.
You can also extend the hike to go to the flagpole further up the mountain. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Nelson for a short hike.
2. Paddle Board on Kootenay Lake
Kootenay Lake is beautiful and huge! it’ll feel more like you’re looking at the ocean from certain viewpoints outside of Nelson. If you have a paddleboard spend the time to pump it up and hit the lake!
You can also rent them from Nelson Paddleboard and Kayak Rentals right down by the lake for a few hours of fun.
3. Go Skiing at Whitewater Resort
For fun things to do in Nelson in the winter, there’s only one right answer: go skiing!
Whitewater Ski Resort is one of BC’s best ski resorts and is just outside of Nelson. Skiing here is one of the best activities in Nelson.
At Whitewater, you’ll ski without the huge liftlines you get at bigger, more well-known resorts and you’ll be getting some great powder too!
Whitewater gets around 12 meters of snowfall every year and so the chances of getting some fresh powder when skiing here are pretty high.
4. Ride, run or walk the Great Northern Rail Trail
The Great Northern Rail Trail, or Rails to Trails area, is the ideal spot for a beautiful walk, run, or bike ride.
It’s actually one of the main access points for some of the awesome mountain biking trails in Nelson too and is a cool thing to see in Nelson.
The whole trail runs from Salmo to Nelson; a distance of 48km. It’s now part of the Trans Canada Trail (an epic trail that spans the width, and more, of Canada).
We went for a run here one morning while staying in Nelson and enjoyed the views and the trestles which used to form part of the railway line. It was one of my favorites Nelson BC activities from our trip there and is an awesome idea if you’re looking for free things to do in Nelson, BC
5. Grab Ice Cream from the Old School Dairy Queen
We’re kinda new converts to Dairy Queen for their blizzards which are perfect when it’s hot outside. Nelson has an old-school walk-up Dairy Queen which is kinda cute.
It’s also close to the Rotary Lakeside Park so you can grab an ice cream from here and go and enjoy it by the lake.
6. Go to the Cake Window at Epiphany Cakes
Another awesome place in Nelson for sweat treats is Epiphany Cakes. You can find them in the Kootenay Co-op and Grocery Store but, better still is their own location in Uphill Nelson.
They have a super cute cake window where you walk up to place your cake order. Their cakes are delicious too so make sure you get a slice each!
7. Soak up the Views from Gyro Park Lookout
Gyro Park is beautiful with a pool, stunning flowers, and a cool lookout towards the lake and over downtown Nelson. It’s worth a walk on the trails and out to the lookout, especially at sunset.
8. Relax at the Beach by the Nelson Bridge
Nelson’s big orange bridge is something of a town symbol. If you’re coming to or from Kaslo then you’ll actually drive over it on your way.
Right under the bridge is a public beach area (Rotary Lakeside Park) by the lake which is a great place to hang out and enjoy the summer sun.
There’s a small roped-off swimming area, a concession stand, and plenty of shade under the trees a bit further back from the water too.
9. Explore Downtown Nelson
With all its heritage buildings, downtown Nelson is a beautiful town! Take the time to spend a few hours wandering around and getting a feel for the town (or just snapping lots of photos!).
10. Ride the Nelson Tram – Streetcar #23
The Nelson Street Car, or tram, is entirely volunteer-run and operates by donation only. We rode it from Lakeside Park back to Prestige Inn and it’s one of the top Nelson BC attractions
It runs every half hour during summer and is such a fun thing to do in Nelson.
11. Visit Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
Just outside of Nelson is Kokane Creek Provincial Park. There are around 10km of hiking and walking trails and there’s a beachside area too which is the perfect place to have a beach day.
Exploring this area is one of the best things to do around Nelson.
12. Take a Hike near Nelson
Being surrounded by so many mountains it likely comes as no surprise that there are so many places to go hiking in Nelson and nearby.
Some of the best are at Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park although there are trails up and down the Kootenay Lake area. You can get more ideas for Nelson hikes from the Nelson visitor centre.
AllTrails is my go-to hiking app for finding, planning, and navigating while I’m out on the trails. With offline maps on AllTrails+ you can be confident you’re still on the right track, even without mobile signal.
13. Chill out at Ainsworth Hot Springs
Ainsworth Hot Springs is 45 minutes from Nelson and it’s the perfect place to have a soak if you’ve hit the hiking, mountain biking, or skiing a little too hard!
These hot springs near Nelson are unique since there’s also a cave area.
Currently, you need to book your spa time in advance and tickets are $18. If you’re a guest of the hotel you can soak for free.
14. Day trip to Kaslo
Kaslo is a super cute small town just 1 hour north of Nelson. It’s got a lot of history and is right on the lake too.
There are some great things to do in Kaslo such as exploring the great hiking trails here, awesome restaurants, and an annual Jazz Festival where the stage is floating on the lake and you can party on the sand while listening.
15. Go Shopping on Baker Street
Baker Street is the main street in downtown Nelson and it’s full of great shops, restaurants, and cafes as well as cute buildings.
The stores in Nelson sell everything from outdoor gear to cool clothing, gifts, and homewares and it’s easy to pass away a few hours browsing.
16. Get Breakfast & Coffee From Empire Coffee
Empire Coffee is one of the best cafes in Nelson. Luckily for us, it was right next to our hotel, the Adventure Hotel, and so we popped in here to get our breakfast.
Their breakfast sandwiches are also delicious and I highly recommend getting your caffeine fix here.
Another great place for coffee in Nelson is Oso Negro!
17. Go Mountain Biking in Nelson
Nelson is renowned for its mountain biking and mountain bikers have a lot of choices when it comes to where to ride in and around the town.
There are gentle trails, rooty technical tracks, stunts, ladders, and drops. Pretty much everything you could possibly want, you can find on a mountain biking trail in Nelson.
Some of the best mountain biking in town is off the Great Northern Railway Line at Mountain Station, or Giveout and Gold Creek.
- Top tip: Trailforks is the best app to learn more about the Nelson mountain biking trails.
18. Drive the Selkirk Route
The International Selkirk Loop takes you both through Canada and the US and can be started from Nelson.
The entire route takes around 3-8 hours depending on how many stop-offs you want to do and it’s absolutely stunning as you drive through the rugged Selkirk Mountains.
You’ll go through both Idaho and Washington State and it would make for a super cool road trip!
19. Explore Nelson’s Uphill Neighbourhood
As you’ll notice quickly, there are a lot of hills in Nelson BC! You’ll have to earn it, but taking a walk to, and around, the Uphill Neighbourhood in Nelson is a beautiful place to wander. The homes have beautiful gardens and the homes themselves are pretty too.
In summer you’ll usually stumble across garage and yard sales which are always fun to browse!
20. Soar through the forest with Kokanee Mountain Zipline
Kokanee Mountain Zipline is one of the most fun Nelson attractions. On this zipline course, you’ll tackle six different zip lines where the longest is 732m!
The zipline course is set in the beautiful Kokanee Creek area making it even more spectacular.
21. Ride the Kootenay Lake Ferry across Kootenay Lake
One of the best things to do around Nelson BC is to ride the Kootenay Lake Ferry.
The Kootenay Lake Ferry is the world’s longest free ferry and riding it across the lake is beautiful! We accidentally took the crossing at sunset and it was beautiful to watch the colors change across the sky as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
22. Take a Mural Walking Tour
Every year in mid-August Nelson holds a Mural Festival (similar to the mural festival in Vancouver) where fresh murals are added to buildings across the town.
You can wander around and see the artists in action or just take yourself on a street art tour in Nelson whenever you happen to be visiting since the murals will still be there!
23. Go underground at Cody Caves Provincial Park
Cody Caves Provincial Park is one of the best-known cave systems in British Columbia and is actually where the water for Ainsworth Hot Springs comes from.
The caves can be visited on a guided tour through Cody Cave Tours. You get a few different options when it comes to tours from something easy, to more strenuous with a bit more climbing and tighter spaces.
It’s a unique thing to do in Nelson and a great way to escape the heat too!
24. Visit Nelson’s Breweries
There are three great breweries in Nelson that focus on local ingredients and brew a range of different beers. And what’s better than a cool beer after a sweaty hike or mountain bike?!
- Torchlight Brewing Co: This is one of the newest breweries and is down near the lake. It’s a large space with regular live music, comfort food, a great variety of beers, and an outdoor patio area too.
- Nelson Brewing Company: This organic brewery has award-winning beers and their taproom has beers that are only available here!
- Backroads Brewing Company: Right in downtown Nelson on Baker Street, Backroads Brewing is super popular with craft ales and lagers. They also have regular live music making it a cool place to visit in Nelson.
The Best Nelson Restaurants
Below are some of the best restaurants in Nelson. All of them are seriously good and there are so many to choose from. I was shocked to discover how many options there were for truly delicious food.
Some of the best are listed below.
- Cantina Del Centro: We ate at this Mexican restaurant on our first night and it was delicious. Their tacos are super fresh, and they also do ceviche and burritos. Make sure to get a margarita and the churros for dessert too!
- Pitchfork Eatery: Often cited as Nelson’s best restaurant, this eatery has a beautiful patio with weekly live music in summer. They specialize in local, seasonal ingredients and their food is great!
- The Black Cauldron: If it’s cocktails you’re after then The Black Cauldron has your back. It’s a super unique cocktail bar with ‘witchy’ vibes and gorgeous charcuterie boards in a cool space with a lovely patio out back.
- Broken Hill: Broken Hill does some of the best BBQ food we’ve had (and we had some good ones in Texas!). They also have a large beer list. Get their smokehouse platters where you can sample a variety of meat and sides – it’s all delicious.
Where to stay in Nelson
There are a lot of hotels in Nelson and we ended up staying at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson for our stay. It was right downtown just one block from Baker Street and next to Empire Coffee.
The room had everything we needed and plenty of storage too if you’re visiting Nelson in winter and have all your ski stuff.
Other great options include:
- Hume Hotel & Spa $$$: Hotel Hume offers a fresh, made-to-order breakfast each morning and is a great option for Nelson BC hotels.
- Prestige Lakeside Resort WorldHotels Elite $$$: Prestige Lakeside Resort offers luxurious rooms with private balconies and lake and mountain views with an on-site restaurant, indoor pool and hot tub, a spa offering organic beauty treatments, and complimentary use of sports equipment and games.
- Savoy Hotel $$: Beautiful hotel with sauna and hot tub facilities for guests
- Dancing Bear Inn Hostel $: One of the cheapest accommodations in Nelson, this hostel has single-sex dorms, and mixed dorms available.
How to get to Nelson BC
Nelson is quite a long drive from most major cities which is why I personally think it’s best as a road trip destination. Either as part of a longer Kootenay road trip route or from towns such as Revelstoke.
- Castlegar to Nelson BC: Another of the big towns in the area is Castlegar which is slightly west of Nelson. From Castlegar to Nelson it’s around a 35-minute drive. You can also fly to Castlegar Airport from Vancouver.
- Calgary to Nelson: The drive from Calgary to Nelson is around 7 hours and you can either go through Banff, Lake Louise, Kootenay National Park, and Invermere or through Fernie and the south. Both routes have similar driving times and are beautiful.
- Vancouver to Nelson BC: It takes over 8 hours to drive to Nelson from Vancouver. The quickest way is to take Highway 3 past Manning Park and through Osoyoos. You can also fly to Castlegar and rent a car.
- Revelstoke to Nelson: Revelstoke to Nelson is a quicker drive of 3.5 hours and involves a free ferry across Shelter Bay one of the best free things to do in Nelson. You’ll be driving alongside Arrow Lake and Slocan Lake so it’s very picturesque.
FAQs on what to do in Nelson BC
Is Nelson BC worth visiting?
Yes! Nelson is a col mountain town in BC with loads of fun outdoor activities including hiking and biking in the summer and skiing in the winter. It’s also got a great food scene with loads of awesome Nelson restaurants.
What is Nelson BC known for?
Nelson, BC is known for its arts scene, historic architecture, and natural surroundings. The town is rich in culture, with numerous art galleries, shops, and a variety of outdoor recreational activities, including skiing, snowboarding, and hiking. It’s often referred to as the “Queen City” due to its well-preserved heritage buildings.
Is Nelson BC a party town?
Nelson Canada isn’t typically characterized as a party town. However, it does have a variety of bars, breweries, and live music venues.
Final thoughts on these best Nelson BC things to do
As you can see there are some awesome things to do Nelson BC both in downtown Nelson BC and up on the surrounding hills and mountains.
Whether you’re enjoying hiking in Nelson, mountain biking on the hills, or are enjoying the things to do in Nelson BC in winter like skiing and snowboarding, you’re sure to have a brilliant town in this cool mountain town in BC.
If you’re visiting the area, be sure to check out this guide to what to do in Kaslo nearby, or discover these things to do in Fernie, explore these fun things to do in Creston, or go further north into the Kootenays and discover these fun things to do in Invermere, the best things to do in Fairmont and what to do in Radium BC.
I have 100s of BC travel guides for you to explore!
Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Hannah
Hannah started That Adventurer after graduating back in 2013 and has documented all of her adventures since then. From backpacking South America to city breaks in Europe, a 3 month road trip across the USA in a self-converted van and 6 years living in Canada, you’ll find posts on all of this.
Hannah specialises in active travel and on That Adventurer you’ll find hiking, walking, biking, skiing and all sorts of active travel guides to allow you to see a destination in an adventurous way.