There was no question. Our first hike in the West Kootenay was going to be the Nelson classic: Pulpit Rock. With epic views of the city and a trailhead just across the lake, it was the obvious choice for a sunny weekend morning.
Trailhead: Johnstone Road, Nelson
Distance, Round Trip: 3.6km to Pulpit Rock, 2.2km extra to Flagpole and back
Elevation: +338m to Pulpit Rock, +317m beyond to Flagpole
Allegedly, Pulpit Rock has had hikers clambering up it for nearly a century. The trail winds up the west side of Mount Nelson (Elephant Mountain) and gives great views of the city below.
The Friends of Pulpit Rock Society maintains the trail and has 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!
Up to Pulpit Rock
It’s a steady march up and you’ll encounter many folks and dogs along the way. The elevation gain is stretched out thoughtfully over switchbacks. The trail winds through the woods with glimpses of Nelson below. The sounds of city traffic slowly fade as you ascend. At our moderate pace, it took about an hour to reach Pulpit Rock, a natural outcrop of rock overlooking the City of Nelson.
Pulpit Rock is a busy spot. Lots of people were sitting out in the sun, enjoying the view. And what a view it is!
Onwards and Upwards to Flagpole
I wanted to go on. Our guidebook told us there were better views and fewer people up at the next milestone: Flagpole.
After the manageable plod up to Pulpit Rock, I figured the trail up to Flagpole would be more or less the same. It started off rather steep, but not far along we came to a promising junction:
“We’ll go left,” I said hopefully. “That won’t be too bad.”
Wrong, as it turned out. The moderate trail up to Flagpole was steep. Gone were the switchbacks. It just went up. One aching step at a time. We huffed and puffed our way along, stopping to hoist ourselves over and under and around dead-fall.
The hike to Flagpole took over almost an hour with all of our stops and panting. But at the end, we clambered up to a sunny view that was truly awesome:
From this height, Nelson was fully mapped out. We sat for a long while and snacked, watching a fire truck with twinkling lights wind around the city streets below.
It is much quieter at Flagpole. We sat up there for over an hour and only a handful of other hikers came and went.
Back down again
The trip back down was easy on the lungs and hard on the joints. The steep descent from Flagpole to Pulpit had us wincing along the way. Ow ow ow. Seasoned hikers would have no problems here, but I’ll admit it was too much for us to march all the way up to Flagpole on our first go. My knees and hips ached for days after.
We took a quick rest back at Pulpit Rock before heading down the much gentler switch-backs to the parking lot. Whew.