Photographed in (mainly) , BC
Kindly supported by the province of British Columbia
Good Morning John’, ‘Hi Barry – isn’t this the most perfect day?’ ‘Anna, great to see you. Feeling any better?’
Nelson, British Columbia, the colorful town filled with art, music, hippies, libertines and all those whose job is either free-lance journalist, painter, musician, sculptor or alike. Nelson, a town, which community has no equal and which inhabitants seem to leave the house radiant with joy, every single morning. Residents so relaxed and friendly that you might ask yourself where the plantation with the green leaves might be that you can smoke so merrily… // Fun fact: the police officers of Nelson tend to stretch the law a little in that matter, just like for example in Vancouver the regulations are rather chill and/or vague. Policies are quite liberal and the authorities tolerate the selling of Marijuana in local coffee shops. // It’s a fact, that the municipal of Nelson is open-minded, eccentric, friendly, green, easy breezy and all of that isn't superficial or faked. It’s a fact that, if you live in Nelson, then you do so because of an active decision and you can’t imagine it any other way. The community is being nourished and cherished, the wildest projects are being turned into reality, together (like the incredible grocery store "Kootenay Coop" which is a cooperative of consumers financing the supermarket themselves and therefore freeing themselves from big chains - the store offers local produce, healthy and organic, vegan and fair trade, wellness products and loads and loads of fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables.)
But we are rushing ahead, let us start this story from the beginning….
End of August we (due to dramatic, or let’s rather say, stupid circumstances) miss our flight to Canada, are being rebooked to another flight within 12 hours, hysterically pack our suitcases, race to Keflavik airport, almost miss our connecting flight in Toronto and then arrive at the Fairmont Airport hotel in Vancouver completely drained and exhausted, after 16 hours of travelling. We quickly head for an (amazing) dinner - homemade honey bread and fresh salmon - and then sink into our beds. Six o’clock next morning the alarm blares, again and we are being roused from slumber. We hurry to yet another terminal and wait for our flight to Castlegar. To say we are sweaty and tense would be one hell of an understatement. We are sure that this trip is star-crossed and about to turn into a nightmare but well, one should always stay positive so we try to keep our shit together. Indeed, the flight in the small prop plane makes up for the early morning moping - we fly over the green Rocky Mountains, which are beautifully illuminated by the golden light of dusk. If that doesn’t make you reconcile with the day then that’s your loss! After a bumpy landing, we jump into our guide Rick’s bus and find ourselves on the way to our very first stop of this British Columbia trip: Nelson. It takes only ten minutes and the three of us are friends. We laugh and talk and Rick tells us a bit about Nelson, the so-called ‘Queen City’ of the West Kootenay Rockies. “You’re gonna love it! Everyone is just super relaxed, it’s a great community. Lots of the buildings are remains from the Silver Rush and beautifully restored. And the food! Such a great scene of restaurants and cafés - more than 70 places in this small town. Everything is locally produced and fresh - ahh well, you just wait and see. In addition, it’s an absolute paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.”
Our curiosity is excited, that’s for sure.
Half an hour later we arrive at the city and check into "The Hume Hotel", one of the best hotels in British Columbia since 1898, and our stay for the night. (Nope, it’s not coincidentally one of the most expensive ones, as well. :D) You can see the history of this place running through its wooden veins. Everything is restored stunningly and the balance between old and new a perfect success. A lot of original pieces have been preserved and incorporated in the interior - we absolutely love this place. It was to be expected since we have a soft spot for old buildings. So much history, so many actual vintage pieces, wood, brass and velvet drapes.
We are incredibly tired but not yet ready to give in so we just quickly change and head out to explore the town. We find a breakfast spot just around the corner at “John Ward Fine Coffee”. It’s 11 am and already quite hot, the sun rises and we get rid of our cardigans. Cappuccino and granola help us to slowly fuel back up and we take in the surroundings. The little café is filled with locals, a young girl with gigantic headphones is enthusiastically writing something on her laptop, smiling infectiously. Outside an elderly couple is enjoying a cup of coffee, accompanied by their two dogs, with bare feet and shorts covered in splashes of paint. The atmosphere is joyful, nobody cares about looks, tries to impress or seeks attention. At the street light in front of the door, a young guy is dancing topless to a techno beat only he can hear. We grin broadly. On our way through town, we witness how people greet each other, the police officer in front of the bank building is having a good blether with an older gentleman who seemingly brought her a cup of coffee to go. “Where are we?” we ask ourselves. We stroll along a beautiful old building which is filled to the brim with antique books, a small boutique selling handmade soap and end up in a cute store vending tea and ice cream. Thirsty as we are we order two huge homemade ice teas that taste ridiculously good. We buy glittering postcards and a dainty tea tin filled with cream-caramel-Rooibush and fall in love with the interior and macarons (which we obviously have to try, no matter if we just had breakfast.)
Since Nelson is situated on a hill we climb up one of the byroads and leave downtown. We come across the craziest houses. Anthroposophist and hippy heaven, obviously. Wild growing backyards, hammocks, wide open doors, overgrown gates - everything rather unkempt and all people super relaxed. The sky is overcast with the smoke of the forest fires that are raging in the area, creating an atmosphere of surreality. We feel like in a movie. Back at the hotel, Rick is picking us up to go Stand Up Paddling. We walk to the border of the town, through a green park, past hundreds of geese and a tiny narrow-gauge railway. The theme park feeling is taking over, yet again. “This isn’t real…” We rent boards and get an introduction to SUP, then we are off to paddle Kootenay lake. The sky by now is dark with smoke, a yellow fog wafts over the water and cloaks the mountains - a weird atmosphere, truly. For an hour we float around, navigate the boards through the water and even get some tiny waves from a passing a speedboat every now and then.
We have dinner at the "All Seasons Café" and enjoy some great wine and an amazing truffles risotto - almost everything being produced in the area, of course. We meet Peter, editor of the magazine ‘Kootenay Mountain Culture’. He is an absolute mountain bike enthusiast, wears checkered Vans and a wild head of curls. He is - you might have guessed it - deeply relaxed, laughs a lot and absolutely LOVES his city. He photographs writes and does all kinds of sports, as often as possible. His fav' word is ‘aye’ and he finishes almost all his sentences like that. We are sitting on the patio for over two hours, above us some chains of lights in the treetops, and talk about big dreams and the little things in life until we quite noticeably are half in the bag and it’s time to head back to the hotel.
The next day starts with a real highlight.
We meet John, the ‘unofficial mayor’ of Nelson, who is supplying half the town with fresh coffee from his roastery and associated café, every single morning. EVERYBODY knows John and he’s being greeted at least 20x while we hang out with him. People just know each other. And obviously also really like one another. We can relate. John is - who would have thought - the epitome of relaxation and must have invented the saying ‘all things chill’, there’s just no other way. The panini we are having on the busy terrace of his café is freaking heavenly. If we would have to choose one single breakfast for the rest of our lives: John, it would be your panini! Local, fresh, eco-friendly, organic, fair and veggie - we have no clue what exactly the secret ingredient is but DAMN, best breakfast ever. Then, he takes us to his roast house. It’s located on the hill and in one of the oldest buildings in town - it’s a place like John. Unique, distinct, chill. He collects art on the walls of the small manufacture, each one has a wild background story, most of them are signed. ‘John, thanks for the wine and your wisdom’. We have no doubt that this guy has an answer to every question in the world. Light is falling through the windows and paints all his collector’s pieces in gold. They stamp and pack everything by hand, the beans are shipped in from all over the world and are fair trade, obviously. John loves nature, he lives on a small island outside of town where he built his own little hideaway, as he tells us. We immediately have an idea in our heads of what it must look like. John is one of those people that enrich your life even if you only spend a couple of hours with them.
Oso Negro Café and Roastery.
Café and roastery run by John Meyer, unofficial mayor of Nelson who everybody knows and loves.
Best breakfast and fair trade coffee make for a perfect morning on the terrace of his beautiful coffee house.
604 Ward Street, Nelson, BC
Afterward, we hop on bikes. Since the climb is quite steep the bike rental opts for e-bikes and motorized like this it's a piece of cake to make it all the way up to Nelson’s very own part of the ‘Great Trail’. The Trans Canada Trail is a trek from coast to coast on which you can cross the entire country by foot (or bike) and being built for 25 years. It covers 24.000 km and 15.000 communities. Like Nelson. It leads through the wilderness, along (and above) water and even busy streets, mostly hiking paths, though. Volunteers financed and worked on the non-profit project for all those years, holding on to the dream of creating the longest trail in the world. Just recently all parts have been connected and the plan succeeded. With our bikes, we are standing on one of those thousands of kilometers and are overlooking the town and Kootenay Lake.
We get lunch at the previously mentioned Coop supermarket to fuel up for our next part of the adventure. Fresh melon and juices, salads, sandwiches and protein bars - you can really taste the difference to mass production. (Getting such a Coop in Iceland is our dearest wish.) We then spend two hours on the winding roads of the Kootenay Rocky Mountains until we arrive at our second adventure of the day: Kokanee Mountain Zipline. We have never done anything like this before and are overly excited. Unfortunately, the forest fires are spreading, we can’t see a single mountaintop and the sun is darkened by thick plumes. We click into our harnesses and after a short introduction, we speed through the forest. Six massive steel ropes are leading through the area. 300 meters above the ground we find ourselves on wooden platforms and prepare for the next flight. One line is leading over the 2400 feet deep canyon of Kokanee Creek - the feeling of rushing over the river and all the trees you can spot on the ground is just indescribable. We let go, die of laughter, feel the adrenaline pump through our veins and those two hours at the zip line literally fly by until we find ourselves back in the car and are headed to the ferry that is gonna take us to Crawford Bay and our lodging for the night.
Kokanee Mountain Zipline
Six lines leading through the area and over Kokanee Creek.
Makes for two hours filled with adrenaline.
Kokanee Glacier Park Rd between Kokanee Marina and Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
In the late afternoon, we are sailing over Kootenay Bay, by now, the air is thick with smoke. We arrive at our hotel which distinctively reminds us of the typical horror movie motel (if you know what we mean) - mostly because it’s so secluded and there are nothing and no-one around. Just a gigantic dark forest. We shower and then start out for dinner which is being served at Kootenay Cabin Restaurant, situated directly at the water. We are sitting on the terrace, the air is still warm and heavy, eating pizza and watermelon salad while a red sun is going down behind the smoke-blurred mountains. A lonely rower is kayaking on the lake and we are certain it doesn’t get any more idyllic than this. Home-made coconut-milk based ice cream and some amazing cider top off the evening and we can hardly fall asleep, still pumped with adrenaline and trying to process the events of the day.
Kootenay Cabin Restaurant
Beautiful wooden house situated at the water, offering fresh ingredients and an amazing brunch on Sundays, the ice cream is especially note-worthy!
16898 Scott Rd, Kootenay Bay, BC
In the morning we grab a (delicious) cinnamon bun and some black coffee for breakfast - which we buy at a small booth in the middle of the forest, beautifully framed by perfect ‘cabins in the woods’. Then we are back in the van for another three hours to get to the next section of our trip. Since the drive is quite dragging, we stop in Creston for a second breakfast consisting of THE most amazing mint brownie and some caramel Frappuccino. We stroll through the village and admire all the incredible wall paintings of the First Nation. Even though we really intend to not stop, again we can’t help ourselves and hop into one of the amazing Farmer’s Markets on the side of the road to buy fresh cherries, peaches, and melon. The colors of all the fruit are giving us so much joy and we don’t regret it for a second that we arrive in Fernie very last minute for our next activity.
Map of the Kootenay Lake Area
You want to read more about our trip to Fernie, British Columbia?
Then check out our travel diary and 48-hour itinerary for Fernie and beautiful Island Lake Lodge, right over here::
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Looking for further information on traveling BC?
Then you might wanna check out our 'British Columbia Mini Guide'. Find a complete itinerary for several days spent in the area including places to visit, activities to try, where to stay, what to eat and even more - right over here:
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