Photography by Richard Giordano
Located in British Columbia’s southern interior, Nelson is a funky bohemian hub in the heart of the Kootenay region. Surrounded by the Selkirk mountain range, Nelson boasts a vibrant arts community, colorfully restored heritage buildings, and more restaurants per capita than Manhattan or San Francisco. Part of the traditional territory of the Sinixt and Ktunaxa Nations, the lakes, rivers, and hot springs were used for seasonal migration, trading, and healing more than 5,000 years before European contact. Now, visitors soak stiff muscles at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, mountain bike and hike along scenic alpine trails, or enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing on the glacial-fed Kootenay Lake.
My childhood summers were spent seeing the sights via Streetcar #23, splashing in the pools at Gyro Park, and paddling Kootenay Lake atop a rustic raft made from floating logs. Although my visits are less frequent in adulthood, they usually involve a stop at one of the local coffee roasters, a hike in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, and a stroll along Baker Street.
Where to Camp
A 20-minute drive from town, Kokanee Creek Provincial Park offers camp spots with full facilities and hookups, a sandy beach, and shade from old-growth western cedar and grand fir trees. Visit the channel and viewing platform from August to early December to witness mature Kokanee salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
The closest BC Recreation Sites are Six Mile Lakes (25 kilometers from town) and Sasquatch Lake (75 kilometers from Nelson). Both are accessed via bumpy forestry service roads. Check out Nelson and Kootenay Lake Tourism’s interactive map for more local campsite information.
What to Do
There are plenty of things to do near Nelson, so be prepared to leave with a plan to return. Baker Street is where you’ll find most restaurants, shops, and the Kootenay Co-op, which is stocked with fresh local produce and other healthy treats. If you’re visiting in the summer, Baker Street is also home to the Nelson Downtown Market, which runs on Wednesdays from June to September (9:30 am to 3 pm). Head to the water, and you’ll find Rotary Lakeside Park, a convenient place to go for a swim, launch a kayak or canoe, or walk along the promenade at sunset. The Nelson and Kootenay Lake Tourism website is chock full of things to see and do; visit nelsonkootenaylake.com for more ideas.
Mountain lovers will enjoy the Pulpit Rock and Flag Pole hiking trails, just across the Big Orange Bridge (affectionately referred to as “BOB”) on the west side of town. If you’re looking for a tranquil hiking experience, head to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Unpaved Kokanee Glacier Road takes you to the trailhead and parking lot at Gibson Lake, the launching point for various backcountry activities. Hiking to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin is particularly peaceful, and users may stay the night for $25 per person per night through The Alpine Club of Canada.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit during the winter, the Whitewater Ski Resort is a mere 21 kilometers from Nelson’s city center and the first stop on BC’s legendary Powder Highway. Pick up a copy of one of Shelly Adams’ Whitewater Cooks series cookbooks while in town—they’re a staple in kitchens across Western Canada and feature recipes served by Adams during her time as an owner of the Whitewater Ski Resort in the ‘80s.
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