Nelson is a city located in the Selkirk Mountains on the extreme West Arm of Kootenay Lake in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Known as “The Queen City”, and acknowledged for its impressive collection of restored heritage buildings from its glory days in a regional silver rush, Nelson is one of the three cities forming the commercial and population core of the West Kootenay region, the others being Castlegar and Trail.
Nelson has earned a reputation as a cultural centre. The downtown area is packed with excellent restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, local shops, small art galleries, the restored Capitol Theatre (a regional hub for the performing arts) and impromptu theatre venues. It is also home to a collection of micro breweries The Nelson Brewing Company, Torchlight and Backroads Brewery. Buskers line the downtown core adding more weirdness and character to this adorable town whether you get to see the”dancing guy” or the gentleman who plays the trumpet a walk downtown is always entertaining. Nelson has remained relatively free of the chain stores, franchises and strip-mall developments that are common in other towns of similar size, which lends to a distinct townscape. For its geographic scale, Nelson has an uncommonly high number of organic farms, market gardens, and home gardens and loads of yoga studios, also you can’t swing a cat without hitting a store that carries healing crystals. Nelson has several retail outlets for natural foods. Nature and natural health are prominent in the community.
Set in the Selkirks, a number of artists and writers make Nelson their home. Nelson is highlighted as the “Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada” by the publisher of The 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America, and is home to a large and diverse artisan community. The annual Artwalk, a display of artwork at various venues around town features local talent.
Nelson features several regular outdoor markets where artisans and farmers can be found selling everything from local produce, poultry and farm-fresh eggs to handcrafted jewelry, pottery and clothes. a lively nighttime street market in the heart of Nelson’s downtown, happens on the last Friday of the month in June, July, and August. The market offers regional farm produce, delicious foods, and a variety of locally hand-crafted products. The city is about forty-five minutes away from the site of the annual Shambhala Music Festival, an internationally known artistic music festival held in August at the Salmo River Ranch.
There are many popular hiking trails. The Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail is a very gently sloped rail trail which runs across Nelson and allows biking. The Pulpit Rock Trail offers a short but somewhat challenging hike that ends with a view of the city. After Pulpit Rock the trail continues up the spine of Elephant Mountain (as the locals call it) to more postcard views, and eventually to the radio towers which are visible from everywhere in the city. Hikers venturing beyond Pulpit Rock should have basic wilderness gear and exercise common sense.
Mountain biking is part of the local culture, and Nelson offers a wide variety of MTB-oriented trails for all levels of experience. Excellent trail maps are available at local bike shops. Powersports enthusiasts can take off on several trails with quads and dirt bikes to enjoy the mountainside and the many mountain lakes. You can find all powersports and back road accessibilty information at the impressive and locally owned Main Jet Motorsports. Rock climbing is also a popular summer activity. Kootenay Crag, Hall Siding, Grohman Narrows and CIC Bluffs are popular city crags. Slocan Bluffs and Kinnaird are in nearby Slocan City and Castlegar. 2003 saw bouldering take off in Nelson, with extensive new development of bouldering areas in Grohman Narrows and nearby Robson. Mountaineers and alpine rock climbers head to the Valhalla Provincial Park in the Selkirk Mountains for long alpine routes on unique textured granite The Mulvey Basin, Cougar Creek and Nemo Creek areas have routes ranging in grade from 5.4 to 5.12. Nelson is also located close to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, that sits on the west arm of Kootenay lake where jet skiers, water-skiers, anglers, sail boat enthusiasts, wind and kite surfers are plentiful and enjoying life on this gorgeous arm of the lake in the spring summer and fall.
Canoers, kayakers and SUP enthusiasts also enjoy this lake as well as the many mountain lakes, rivers and creeks that allow for all level of users from beginner to expert, and don’t forget the white-water rafting tours for those looking for an adrenaline rush and maybe want to get a little wet. The park also host a zip-line that allows for unbelievable views and a crazy ride over a huge mountain valley. In the winter, skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are Nelson’s primary outdoor activities. Thirty minutes south of town is the Whitewater Ski Resort, which provides access, (via one triple chairlift, two double chairlifts and a handle tow), to 396 vertical metres of beginner to advanced terrain. The resort also provides access to hundreds of kilometres of off-piste skiing and back country touring. The Nelson area is home to multiple cat-skiing, heli-skiing and ski-touring operators, and hundreds of kilometres of cross-country trails are available for the Nordic skier. In 2012 Nelson and Rossland, a small city south-west of Nelson, were jointly voted best ski locales in North America by readers of California-based Powder Magazine. Sled heads find incredible riding terrain everywhere around Nelson there are groomed trails maintained by the Nelson Sno-goers for novice to expert riders and unlimited terrain for sledders with more back country experience and an avi-pack. Hot springs in the area are great to experience in all seasons, but makes for a relaxing evening after a tough day on the slopes.
You can enjoy all of these outdoor activities and the wickedly stylish Nelson nightlife with joint in hand and be left fairly un bothered. Nelson and its residents have an unprecedented acceptance of marijuana and its use, it is not uncommon to smell the recognizable aroma of a good Sativa or Indica (along with petajoule and incense) that are readily available in one of the many cannabis dispensaries located on historic Baker street downtown Nelson. While currently marijuana for personal use is illegal in Canada, you would never know by your visit to Nelson. If you are discreet and respectful the authorities will mainly leave you alone.Nelson has been noted for its illegal marijuana production, with The Guardian reporting in 2010 that:
“Nelson was able to make the transition from a typical rural lumber town into a thriving arts and mountain sports hotbed, due in part to the wealth generated by marijuana growers. If one were to have spent the last three years in this idyllic mountain hamlet, the economic crisis would have been barely noticeable”
Nelson is a safe community with a “don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you how to live” vibe. You are more likely to get hugged than mugged here. It is gorgeous on a level that you have to see to believe. If you enjoy the outdoors and herb you can’t beat this quirky BC community.