Pulpit Rock – Nelson Hikes

Pulpit Rock – Nelson Hikes

Pulpit Rock is a popular hike on the north shore of the Kootenay River opposite the beautiful city of Nelson in BC, Canada. This is one of the many short, steep, BC hikes that will get your heart pumping; Rewarding you with gorgeous views of the river, city and forested mountains. We did this on a road trip as our first introduction to Nelson – it is a great way to see the area!

This hike was not too hard BUT it is very hot in the summertime. Bring plenty of water and consider hiking early in the morning, or late in the afternoon to avoid overheating!

Pulpit Rock Trail Map

Pulpit Rock Trail – the basics

Distance: 3.6km (although strava recorded 4.5km)
Elevation gain: 380m 
High Points
: 910m (just above Pulpit Rock)
Time: 1.5-1.75 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera! The 10 essentials + bear spray
Facilities: No facilities, but it’s only 5km from the center of Nelson and its amenities.
Dogs: Dog friendly
How hard is it? Moderately easy. It is a workout hike, but so short that most people can do it.
Extra Note: There are hiking poles available to borrow (for free) at the start of the trail. There is also a donation box for hikers to support the maintenance of the trail.

Pulpit Rock Trail – Getting started

If you’re coming from Nelson, cross the big orange bridge, then turn left along Johnstone Road. The trailhead is here, 2.2km down that road. There is an information board and space for several cars. The trail itself is very obvious. There is a set of steps leading up into the gorgeous forest.

Kootenay River Views

This is a steep workout trail, so you’ll find yourself climbing quickly with peek-a-boo views down to the Kootenay River and over to Nelson.

Pulpit Rock Trail – too many steps?

As I mentioned above, this is a workout hike so you can expect plenty of steps. But it is less than 100m elevation gain per kilometer, so it’s actually not bad at all if you are used to the various workout hikes near Vancouver (like the Grouse Grind.) This is MUCH easier and definitely doable if you have energetic kids.

Is Pulpit Rock busy?

I have heard that this can be a very busy trail at the weekend. We did it in the late afternoon on a Sunday in August and although we met a couple of groups of hikers on the trail, we had the viewpoint at the top to ourselves. It seemed pretty empty when compared to hikes in the coastal mountains to the west.

Steep section before the top

Once you get to about 800m in elevation the trail steepens again. There are 4 small switchbacks that allow you to climb up to Pulpit Rock and the fantastic views down to Nelson and the Kootenay River. There are two routes an “easy” and a “hard” route. We already did a few hikes on this day, so we followed the less steep easy option.

History of Pulpit Rock

It is pretty cool that people have been hiking up this steep trail for over 100 years! The trail was mentioned in accounts as far back as 1923, when it was already a popular spot. I loved that this hike is part of Nelson’s culture and history.

This is not a bad way to see a city for the first time is it!?

Climbing up Pulpit Rock

If you sit close to the edge, please be careful not to drop anything off Pupit Rock! In addition to the hiking route, there are multiple climbing routes to scale the cliffs to get here!

Pulpit Rock Panorama

This gives a pretty good idea of the views from Pulpit Rock. The Kootenay River is down below and you can see how beautiful the city of Nelson is, with so many tree-lined streets.

Continue on to the Flagpole?

Most people stop at Pulpit Rock, but if you have more time and energy, you can continue on to the Flagpole. This will double the distance and the elevation gain but the views look even better! This was our fourth hike of the day (and we were getting hungry) so we decided to zoom back down to Nelson.

Treat yourself to Charcuterie

Nelson has plenty of great food options, so if you fancy a hike, you can reward yourself with some seriously tasty food afterwards! Our favourite was the Black Cauldron, which is a charcuterie and cocktail lounge with a gorgeous garden. We ordered some fabulous appetizers as well as a couple of incredible charcuterie boards loaded with meats, cheese, pickles and olives. Perfection.

Hiking up to Pulpit Rock was such a great introduction of Nelson and the surrounding area. It is a fun, fast hike so is perfect when you first arrive to get your bearings and see the lay of the land. This taster made me want to explore and hike more in this area, so I am sure we’ll return to Nelson at some point. What do you think? Fancy a hike in the West Kootenays?

14 thoughts on “Pulpit Rock – Nelson Hikes

  1. I’ve never been to Canada but it’s at the top of my bucket list and this hike looks beautiful! I love those forest views 😍 Great post!

  2. Looks like another gorgeous hike. It’s getting to be that time of year again for being outside in the fresh air.

    And, charcuterie afterwards? Yes please. I love charcuterie boards.

    Thanks for sharing. I always love seeing your adventures.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  3. These views are so rewarding especially for a shorter hike. Pulpit Rock looks like the perfect hike and introduction to the Nelson BC area. And would love to partake in that charcuterie and cocktail lounge afterwards!

  4. Any Idea hwy it has this name. I rather doubt people could collect below it to hear wise words. Love, Lis

    1. I was wondering that too. I couldn’t find anything written about why it’s called pulpit rock, but maybe because it feels like a pulpit above the city with big drop from the bluff?

  5. What an incredible looking hike with rewarding views! I love that you included having charcuterie after too rounding out a great adventure. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I will certainly need to get back to the Kootenay area when we return to BC. You are showing me so many great places to hike. I may even be able to make the steep climb to Pulpit Rock if I stay away from the hot and smokey summers! Cool that there are hiking poles available at the start of the trail but I would be sure to bring my own. Definitely want to get that view.

    1. It’s not looking good for the hot/smoky summers so far this year… but I do hope you can come back. I have a feeling you’d love it around Waterton Lake as well.

    1. No, Kootenay National Park is further North. (I was a bit confused by that too at first. The Kootenay region is southwest of Kootenay National Park, closer to the border with the USA. It’s an amazing area.

  7. This looks like a beautiful training hike or even a hike just for its own sake (-;
    I love that there are hiking poles to borrow at the beginning of the hike. Are they real hiking poles or nicely fashioned sticks for hiking?

    1. They were mostly (slightly battered) ski-poles, so just like hiking poles! It is such a sweet idea to leave them there.

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