Going up and over Elephant Mountain is a big day. But sometimes that’s just what you need to break in those boots! This is a difficult hike with significant elevation, but it’s scenic and close to home! At each milestone, the City of Nelson shrinks further below and more and more peaks unfold from the distant valleys.
Trailhead & Driving Directions
The traverse can be started from either the Pulpit Rock trailhead or Lyon’s Bluff trailhead, across from Nelson, BC. Ideally, you’ll leave a vehicle at one trailhead and start hiking from the other. Or arrange to meet a party of friends in the middle to swap car keys. Most hikers will take 6-8 hours to complete the traverse.
- Pulpit Rock: drive 3 km up Johnstone Road from Highway 3A. Use the overflow parking if you’re leaving your vehicle here for the day as a courtesy to other users.
- Lyon’s Bluff: drive 2.3km on Highway 3A towards Balfour and look for a gravel road ascending up to a parking area on the left. The road is signed “Lyon’s Bluff Trail”.
You can hike in either direction. We chose to start from Lyon’s Bluff which allowed us to ascend in the shaded forest.
Starting from Lyon’s Bluff
Lyon’s Bluff has a beautifully graded trail that uses stone steps and switchbacks to climb to a scenic bluff 1.8km from the trailhead. The main viewpoint has a bench to rest and offers wide views over Nelson and Kootenay Lake.
Higher up Lyon’s
A signed junction near the viewpoint points higher up the trail. There is still 880m of elevation gain to go!
The trail winds peacefully through the forest on soft switchbacks. About 2.7km from the trailhead, reach a fork in the trail and go left. Right is an older loop that will reconnect shortly with the main trail just before you ascend along a cliff face.
Views over Kootenay Lake constantly peek through the trees, and at 3.4km the forest will open to a bigger visa. At 4.3km, you’ll come right to the edge of a creeklet. It may run dry later in the season, but offered a good watering hole in June.
Traversing the Top
After 6km, the trail finally crests and levels out through open forest. This area might be snow-bound early or later in the season, but orange trail markers help guide the way.
Reach the Reflector at 6.7km. This is the top of the trail and offers a view directly over the Big Orange Bridge. The CBC Tower is directly above. You’re about halfway done now, so this could be a good spot for lunch.
Continuing towards Pulpit, the trail stays relatively level as it winds through the upper forest. This area can be bad for deadfall early in the season, but it’s a welcome break with easy footing otherwise.
After 8km, you’ll reach a scenic bluff with some old concrete footings. This is where the true descent begins, so tighten your boots and lengthen your poles.
Descent to Flagpole
You’ll be walking down a ridge that’s less steep than the Lyon’s ascent, but has an underdeveloped trail. Watch for places where a new trail has started cutting off the rocky bluffs and offering switch backs with soft footing Otherwise, careful steps and poles are recommended.
There are big views over Nelson here as well as West over the Kootenay River. On clear days, you’ll also see the nearby Bonnington Range Peaks as well as Ymir Peak above Nelson. But the trail will dip into overgrown thickets so remember to call for bears and take your time.
Reach the Flagpole 10km from Lyon’s Bluff Trailhead. It’s a welcome sight as it means the remaining descent will be on a good trail with lots of friendly people.
Down to Pulpit and Home
Stay right at the Flagpole to take the moderate descent trail with nice footing and switchbacks. You have suffered enough and your knees deserve it. You’ll also be rewarded with wide views over the Kootenay River Valley.
Reach Pulpit Rock after 12km and now it’s simple forested switchbacks all the way down on a busy trail.