Pulpit Rock is the most popular Nelson hike. Locals treat the trail like an outdoor gym and sometimes it feels like half the town is out hiking! The Pulpit trail offers a solid workout over switchbacks, ending in a scenic overlook of town. Hiking further to Flagpole rewards you with an even bigger panorama of the river valley – it’s worth the extra effort when you have the time!
Trailhead: Johnstone Road, Nelson
Distance, Round Trip: 3.6km to Pulpit Rock, 5.8km to Flagpole
Elevation: +338m to Pulpit Rock, +655m to Flagpole
Max elevation: 895 m
Min elevation: 573 m
Total climbing: 322 m
Total descent: -316 m
Allegedly, Pulpit Rock has had Nelsonites clambering up it for nearly a century with old mining sites up the mountain. Locals started reclaiming and improving the trail in recent years and now the Friends of Pulpit Rock Society maintains the trail. They have some choice guidelines for hikers.
Approximately 3 km up Johnstone Road from Highway 3A. Come early – there is overflow parking, but it fills up fast on sunny weekend days!
There are no water sources along the trail, so bring a water bottle. This is a popular dog-walking trail, but make sure you’re in control of your pupper at all times as there are bears in the area.
Up to Pulpit Rock
The Pulpit Trail immediately starts switchbacking as soon as it leaves the trailhead. Some switchbacks are long, some are short. All must be hiked!
There have been many recent improvements to the trail, but there are still some steep, rocky sections so take care as you hike! The trail winds through the woods with glimpses of Nelson below and the sounds of city traffic slowly fade as you ascend.
New hikers might take an hour to reach Pulpit Rock, but hardened locals can power-hike up in under 30 minutes. There are even some hard-core trail runners who jog up it!
On the final switch-back, the trail splits into an ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ junction. The more difficult route climbs over a steep rocky section.
Once you reach Pulpit Rock, stop and enjoy the view! There are a few benches scattered around the top and plenty of spots to look down upon the city.
The majority of hikers on the trail will only do Pulpit, but continuing on to the Flagpole is a great choice when you have time. It’s a bigger adventure with better scenery! Usually hiking Pulpit takes me about 1.5 hours round-trip (with a nice break at the top!) whereas Flagpole is about a 3 hour outing.
Heading up the Flagpole Trail, you’ll continuously meet junctions with ‘easy’ and ‘more difficult’ options signed. That’s because the Friends of Pulpit Rock Society has been doing lots of improvements and trail upgrades to make the Flagpole Trail more accessible for all hikers – hurrah!
Taking the most difficult route will eventually lead you to a some cliffy sections of the trail which don’t have exposure but do require a bit of scrambling. Taking the easier routes will keep you on brand new switchbacks with a nicely graded path.
The forest starts breaking away on the Flagpole Trail and big views of the Kootenay River Valley open up to the West. It’s fantastic hiking, so close to town!
In the fall, the valley is studded with golden larch and yellow birch. In the spring, wildflowers proliferate up and down the slopes!
If you took the most difficult way, the trail will climb up from the below the Flagpole. Taking the easier junctions will have you pass the scenic bench and come around from behind to Flagpole from the western slope.
From this height, Nelson is fully mapped out below – you can sit and watch little dots of traffic shift around the city or see boats swirling on the lake far below. The steep neighbourhood of Uphill looks surprisingly flat when you’re this high!
If you’re a sucker for punishment, the trail network continues past Flagpole all of the way to the CBC Tower. Flagpole is only about half-way up and along – check out the CBC Tower hike for more details!