Explore the Pacific Northwest

Nelson, British Columbia

Explore the Pacific Northwest

Explore Nelson’s Exceptional Ski Destinations, Arts, Cafés and More

charming nelson british columbia glows at dusk

Walking along Baker Street in Nelson, BC, one might get the sensation of being on a film set. The street is lined by shops and cafés in restored historic buildings. But the attractive setting, friendly vibe, thriving arts scene and café culture of this hidden mountain gem are very much real. What’s also real is the astonishing natural beauty that surrounds the town. 

Set on the shores of Kootenay Lake and surrounded by the verdant folds of the Selkirk Mountains, just 3 1/2 hours north of Spokane, Nelson is a hub for recreation. Depending on the season, you’ll see vehicles loaded with mountain bikes, watersports equipment or skis heading into town. 


a young skier at whitewater resort in nelson british columbia

In winter, Nelson buzzes with activity. The Whitewater Ski Resort, tucked into the mountains just 20 minutes east of town, is a powder powerhouse, with up to 40 feet of talcum-powder snow falling, on average, every winter. Whitewater has 1,184 lift-accessible acres, 82 marked runs and challenging terrain — most of the runs are intermediate to advanced. With groomed runs, open bowls, steep chutes and dreamy glade skiing, the resort draws locals and adventurous skiers from farther afield. 

Ski enthusiasts have yet another powder experience available just over an hour south of Nelson, in the mountain town of Rossland. Since 1897, RED Mountain has been the center for ski racing in Canada, with two Olympic gold medalists — Nancy Green Raine and Kerrin Lee-Gartner — scoring Rossland’s slopes in their training days. The mountain is steep, with ultra-long runs; the longest is an amazing 4.4 miles in length. Spread across three mountain peaks, with 2,877 acres of ski terrain and 110 runs, RED is massive. And it boasts a rare opportunity: For only $10 for the first run, advanced skiers can hitch a ride on a snowcat to access pristine, off-trail skiing on Mount Kirkup.

Ski and Lodge 

industrial modern decot at the josie hotel in rossland british columbia

The Josie, a boutique hotel with 106 rooms, opened in November 2018 at the base of RED Mountain’s Silverlode chairlift. The Josie is the resort’s first boutique hotel, and its first ski-in, ski-out lodging option. Among its amenities are a spa, a ski valet and The Velvet Restaurant & Lounge, featuring fine dining by Chef Marc-André Choquette, a top chef from Vancouver, who brought his focus on local foods to this spectacular setting.

Other lodging options are abundant, as well. Standouts include the elegant Hume Hotel & Spa, set in a renovated heritage building, and The Savoy Hotel, a boutique hotel that opened in a restored, more-than-100-year-old landmark building in 2018. It features 12 rooms, a nightclub, music lounge, micro-brew pub, rooftop patio and the Farm Fresh Café. 

The Savoy’s slogan is absolutely spot-on for this lively, artsy mountain town: Where Mountain Meets Modern.

Outdoor Activities & Arts

mountain biker overlooking nelson british columbia

Year-round, outdoor recreation is front and center in Nelson, whose streets are lined with outdoor gear and clothing shops. It’s not far to recreational venues. Pulpit Rock, accessed via the town’s iconic Big Orange Bridge, which crosses the west arm of Kootenay Lake, draws hardcore hikers to view heights, and The Burlington Northern Rail Trail, just above town, attracts walkers, hikers and bikers. A 45-minute drive northeast of town, Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort is an all-seasons attraction with thermally heated pools and even a cave to swim in.  

In summer, visitors and locals flock to Nelson’s waterfront for swimming or sunbathing on the long, sandy beach at Rotary Lakeside Park. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented at the marina adjacent to the park, and Streetcar #23, a vintage trolley, rolls through the park, ending at the Rose Garden Café, a seasonal concession.

In the heart of town, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History examines local history, The Capitol Theatre offers live music and theatrical performances, and artists’ works are on display in shops and galleries, with a self-guided walking tour in the summer months. Fun locally owned shops include Otter Books; Cotton Creek Clothing; and Sea of Wolves, owned by a Nelson husband-and-wife team, whose stunning graphic prints of the Milky Way and wild animals embellish a variety of garments.


an outdoor cafe on baker street in downtown nelson british columbia

The town is famous for its numerous cafes, among them, the Oso Negro Café, a cozy coffee shop that’s a community gathering spot with outdoor seating in a spectacular garden; the All Seasons Café, with patio seating; and The Yellow Deli, with lake views and indoor/outdoor tables. The deli’s owners have a farm that provides much of the food for the café.

—Written by Leslie Forsberg


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The Essentials

From Seattle: 428 miles
From Spokane: 149 miles
Best for: All-year outdoor adventure and historic architecture
Don’t Miss: Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival, February 22–24, 2019

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