On the shores of the giant Kootenay Lake, Nelson is one of the prettiest towns in British Columbia, in one of the most beautiful settings. Life in Nelson is unhurried, and people still smile and greet visitors.
Over 350 lovingly restored turn-of-the-century heritage buildings and facades, breathtaking views and personable citizens make this city a little oasis of genuine civility. Incorporated in 1897 as a mining town, Nelson has bloomed into a unique community with a thriving tourist trade.
Cafés and galleries are everywhere, and many residents seem to be artists or crafts people. Most who pass through Nelson want to come back, many of them permanently. You may, too!
Ride Streetcar 23: Born at the turn of the twentieth century out of the promise of rich mineral discoveries, one of the smallest railways in the British Empire operated in Nelson. Originally built in 1906, its streetcars carried passengers up and down some of the steepest grades of any conventional street railway, not without some spectacular accidents. Completely restored and returned to operation with the help of Selkirk College in 1992, visitors can now enjoy a waterfront ride on the electric Streetcar 23, one of the three cars that operated in Nelson from 1899 until 1949.
Walking Tours: Stroll back in time on a self guided Heritage Walking Tour of Nelson, a city with ornate and grandiose High Victoria style architecture introduced to Nelson by a transient population, but modified by the conservative English settler. Be guided by the excellent tour brochure available at the Visitor Centre.
Armed with the self-guided Heritage Motoring Tour booklet, head out and see more of the well laid out and solidly built Uphill district of the town, the principal buildings of which are solidly constructed of brick and stone, many of which are still in a remarklable state of preservation.
Don’t miss Artwalk, a summer-long multimedia, fine art extravaganza put on by a hundred or so artists in 15 intimate gallery locations.
Whitewater Ski Resort is a popular spot for snowboarders and cross-country skiers a short drive south of Nelson. Skiiers can blast out of some of Nelson’s legendary ‘bottomless powder’ at Whitewater. Nelson’s community Ski Hill, Morning Mountain, also offers great family and beginner skiing.
Film Production: Nelson was the location of two feature films: the popular Steve Martin comedy Roxanne, and Bill Forsythe’s witty Housekeeping. Roxanne fans won’t want to miss the walking tour of the film’s sets and locations.
Nelson Brewing Company is located in the same historic building as Nelson’s original brewery more than 100 years ago. Brewery Tours are available.
Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History celebrates the culture and history of Nelson and area in its museum, archives and art gallery. Located in the heart of historic downtown Nelson at 502 Vernon Street, Touchstones is a state-of-the-art cultural facility in the former Post Office and City Hall. On the main floor, enjoy temporary exhibitions featuring local and regional art, craft, design and exhibitions of historical interest. On the second floor the museum tells the story of local geography, first people, explorers, settlers (famous and infamous) and industry. A mini-theatre, audio area and touch screen technology animates the space and invites visitors to actively engage in experiencing the area’s history. On the lower level is the Shawn Lamb Archives, offering research opportunities for visitors and local residents.
The Chamber of Mines Museum at 215 Hall Street is a geological museum with impressive mineral and ore collections and interpretive displays of mining in the Kootenays. The Chamber of Mines was established in 1926 to prevent claim jumping and now conducts research and provides information for prospectors. The library and map room have documents dating back to 1895. Prospectors courses are offered.
West Arm Provincial Park in the Kootenays encompasses a diverse range of habitats, from lakeshore to subalpine, high-elevation forests and alpine areas. The park protects important First Nations archaeological sites situated along the shore of Kootenay Lake, and there is an historic trail (not maintained) up Lasca Creek.
Kokanee Creek Provincial Park is the largest campground in this part of the West Kootenays. This 235-hectare park is situated on the north shore of the west arm of Kootenay Lake on the site of an old homestead. Its huge sandy beach and delta area is backed by a gently rising upland, giving way to the forested slopes of the Slocan Range of the Selkirk Mountains.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a rugged 30,000-hectare mountain wilderness offering excellent recreation in summer and winter, with some fine angling for trout in the more than 30 glacial lakes. Just a short drive away, you can embark on one of the many spectacular trails and discover breathtaking views of mountain lakes, meadows, and Kokanee Glacier. Aerial Tours of Kokanee Glacier Park and the surrounding area are also available out of Nelson.
Cody Caves Provincial Park offers a great experience under this world. Located on the eastern slopes of the Selkirk Mountains, near Ainsworth Hot Springs, the cave system features an underground stream flowing through ancient limestone formations, discovered by prospector Henry Cody in the 1890s.
Theatre: Take in a world-class performance at the newly restored Capitol Theatre, one of the finest theatres on the continent in 1927. It could be a local play or a touring international show. The Capitol also boasts an extensive costume museum.
Golf: With splendid views of Kokanee Glacier, Kootenay Lake, and the mountain city of Nelson, the Granite Pointe Golf Club is a gem in the Kootenay Rockies, traversing hilly terrain and featuring a number of risk-reward holes requiring precise shot-making (18 holes, 5,180 yards). Golf courses in nearby Balfour include the magnificent Balfour Golf Course and Eagle View Golf Course.
Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Paragliding: The mountainous region around Nelson offers a number of good hanggliding and paragliding launch sites, including Elephant Mountain.
Fishing: Although famed for its scenery, Kootenay Lake also boasts the world’s largest rainbow trout, the Gerrard Trout, which grows up to 30 pounds, and the kokanee, a landlocked salmon. Kootenay Lake rarely freezes, allowing great fishing year round.
Diving: Off Lakeside Park, under the Nelson Bridge, is the sunken 77 foot steamtug from 1899, the SS YMIR. The varied terrain of the B.C. Rockies region of British Columbia accommodates every outdoor recreation known to man.
Ferry Ride: Take the longest free Ferry Ride in the world, a 40-minute scenic crossing of Kootenay Lake, from nearby Balfour to Kootenay Bay. Click for BC Inland Ferry Schedules.
South of Nelson is Salmo, a quaint and interesting little village that has visitors arriving every year to sightsee in the old downtown and relax in the mountains and trails around Salmo.
Southwest of Nelson is Castlegar, home of many of British Columbia’s Doukhobors, a pacifist group of political refugee emigrants from Russia that settled in the Ootichena Valley in 1908. Their history has now become part of the attraction of Castlegar.
Circle Tour: See the best of the area on The Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through Boundary Country and the Southern Okanagan to complete the loop.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.