When I travel I prefer to discover the charm of a small town over that of a big city. There are always exceptions – Quebec City for example, but on the whole I like the simplicity of visiting smaller centres.

Here are 10 small towns in Canada I think you’ll want to visit.

Trinity, Newfoundland

With only 200 year-round residents, Trinity remains compact and very walkable. The best time to visit is in summer when everything is open including the Rising Tide Theatre. In the town itself you can visit galleries and small shops, check out old cemeteries and churches and dine very well at the Twine Loft. Nearby you can go whale watching, explore the Bonavista Peninsula or even visit the site of Random Passage (a TV mini-series). Hiking is excellent in town and on the nearby Skerwink Trail.

Read: Discovering Small Town Canada: Trinity, Newfoundland

Looking down on Trinity from part way up Gun Hill

Looking down on Trinity from part way up Gun Hill

Wolfville, Nova Scotia

I’m partial to Wolfville as I spent a summer living in what is now the Blomidon Inn – but well before it was refurbished. Because its home to Acadia University there’s always a lot going on when it comes to courses and culture. Nearby you can wander the red mud-flats – with some of the best examples in Blomidon Provincial Park on the Bay of Fundy. Sample some darned good wine in the Grand-Pré area, visit the Grand-Pré National Historic site, go bird watching, bike, tube on the local rivers and enjoy the simple camaraderie of locals in a café.

Pretty countryside close to Wolfville

Pretty countryside close to Wolfville

St. Andrews, New Brunswick

With a population under 2,000, what you’ll find is a cute seaside town, with lots of centuries old buildings that harken to its colonial heritage. St. Andrews is one of New Brunswick’s hot destinations – especially in summer when beaches beckon and golf courses are open. Whale watching tours are popular; there is some excellent sea kayaking and renting a bike is a great way to experience the town. Don’t miss a visit to the Kingsbrae Gardens – one of the top public gardens in Canada. When you’re hungry, chow down on a fresh lobster roll.

Gardens in St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Another town I love is Niagara-on-the-Lake. Not only did I get married here, but I lived here for 18 months and ran a flower shop on Queen Street. Granted it’s a bit touristy, but if you get off the main street what you’ll find is a town filled with beautiful, historic houses and a very active and welcoming community. Aside from the Shaw Festival – that runs from mid-April to early November, you can spend days wine tasting, visiting orchards, biking along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara Falls and beyond, golfing, shopping and dining. You need at least a weekend to get a feel for this town. It’s also magical at Christmas.

Read: 15 Things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Buying locally grown fruit at a roadside stand just outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake

Buying locally grown fruit at a roadside stand

Magog, Quebec

It’s a toss-up in my mind between Magog and Lac-Brome for the best small town in Quebec. Granted I haven’t seen the entire province (but most of it) and I was very impressed at what Magog offered the visitor. Located on the shores of Lac Memphremagog, it’s a pretty place with great restaurants and shops. There’s plenty to do nearby – including cycling the Green Route that runs through the town and skiing at any number of local resorts in the winter. A visit to the Abbaye Saint-Benoit is also very worthwhile; check out the interior of the building and sample and buy the cheese made by the Benedictine monks who reside here. For some of the best Mexican food you’ll eat outside of Mexico, check out Guacamole y Tequila at 112 Rue Principale Ouest.

On the shores of lac Memphremagog in Magog, Quebec

On the shores of Lac Memphremagog in Magog, Quebec

Hecla, Manitoba

Located 90 minutes north of Winnipeg on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, what you’ll find in Hecla is a small but strong community with Icelandic routes. Originally settled in 1876, it has seen its’ share of tough times. But since the summer of 1975 when Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park has been in existence, life has improved. If you’re a cyclist, kayaker, hiker, birder or history buff, it’s a great place to explore. In winter visit for the cross-country skiing. There are only a few places to stay and eat – a B&B and a resort though there is lots of camping available too. On a summer weekend don’t miss a visit to Integrity Foods – located on a strip of farmland north of Riverton. Order a pizza and get it baked to order in an outside oven. While you wait admire the surrounding gardens and say hello to the cute goats on the property.

Read: A Visit to Historic Hecla Island in Manitoba

Hecla Lighthouse overlooking Gull Harbour

Hecla Lighthouse overlooking Gull Harbour

Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

In what feels like the middle of nowhere, you’ll find Maple Creek. The nearest ‘big city’ – Medicine Hat is 100 kilometres to the west and to visit you must leave the Trans-Canada Highway. Maple Creek is close enough to Cypress Hills InterProvincial Park that you can visit on a day trip; the town offers a Jamie Oliver trained chef, fantastic five million star accommodation – at the Ghostown Blues and access to the Saskatchewan’s Great Sand Hills – huge dunes everyone will want to explore. Visit between May and October.

Read: Discovering Small Town Canada: Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

Train tracks running through Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

Train tracks running through Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

Lacombe, Alberta

Located about 90 minutes north of Calgary, Lacombe has been called by author Bill Corbett – ‘a rare prairie town that has preserved and restored many of its early 20th century buildings and maintained one of Alberta’s finest Edwardian streetscapes.’ 

Visit for the beautiful downtown boasting six designated Provincial Historic Buildings and some excellent murals but also for all the nearby things to do. The Ellis Bird Farm is an outstanding place to visit in spring and summer for the birds, gardens and the teahouse; the Kraay Family Farm reportedly offers one of the best corn mazes in the province – with 15 acres of nine foot tall corn and the Lacombe Agricultural Research Centre is home to a truly fascinating weed garden.

Food recommendations from local travel writer Debbie Olsen include the Morrison House Café for lunch or afternoon tea. She says don’t miss the fresh in-house pies. For dinner check out Letos Restaurant or The Station, particularly if you love calamari. Another must stop for people on gluten-free diets is the Totally Gluten Free Bakery. Debbie says people travel from Calgary just to load up on baked goods. For farm gate shops she suggests Brown Eggs and Lamb.

An assortment of birdhouses at the Ellis Bird Farm

An assortment of birdhouses at the Ellis Bird Farm

Tofino, British Columbia

I’m overdue for a visit to Tofino. Now that I live in Calgary, it’s a serious jaunt to get there. But it’s always worth it, no matter what the season.The town of under 2,000 people endures on average 3.3 metres of rain per year so they can live in a beautiful temperate rain forest with monster big trees. Magnificent beaches are another major draw. So is the food. Don’t miss Tacofino Cantina, Wolf in the Fog or for a real splurge The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn.

Try cold-water surfing, whale watching and a visit to the hotsprings. Sea kayaking is first class and the cycling is easy. Beautiful accommodation options ensure you can have a room with a view – if you stay at the Wickaninnish Inn, Long Beach Resort or Middle Beach Lodge.

You could easily spend a week in Tofino – just bring lots of reading material for those rainy days.

Read: Tofino, British Columbia: Great Eats, Beaches, Kayaking & Nature 

You can find lots of starfish in Tofino at low tide

You can find lots of starfish in Tofino at low tide

Dawson City, Yukon Territory

If you want to visit a town with a colourful past then be sure to visit Dawson City. Though its not the easiest place to get to as it’s a seven hour drive from Whitehorse – it sure is pretty. Check out the Discovery Claim – where the famous gold rush started. With a little gold panning on the Goldbottom Mine Tour, you might catch a case of gold fever yourself. Take a cruise on a paddle wheeler, join a Parks Canada guided hike complete with Robert Service poetry readings. Visit the Midnight Dome for the views and check out the Jack London Museum. Join 100,000 members who have quaffed the famous Sourtoe Cocktail – where your lips must touch the toe. And wander the town. It’s filled with houses in a rainbow of colours.

Read: A Quick Visit to Dawson – Canada’s Klondike City

Paddle wheeler on the Yukon River docked in Dawson City

Paddle wheeler on the Yukon River docked in Dawson City

What small town in Canada would you most like to visit?

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
HikeBikeTravel
Follow me on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google +

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Trinity, St. Andrews, and Niagara-on-the-Lake are three of my favourites as well. I’m also partial to Kagawong on Manitoulin Island in Ontario! I would love to be able to visit Dawson City some day. I had a bit of an obsession with Robert W. Service in elementary school and could recite The Cremation of Sam McGee from start to finish!

  • Tara says:

    Oh, Canada you have my heart!

  • I’d like to visit each of these small towns. I’ve actually been to one of them — Wolfville. Totally agree that it’s on your list. I’ve many fond memories of the wineries around there, great food and beautiful scenery.

    • @Cathy You’re one of a few lucky Americans to have visited Wolfville. I also love the countryside around the town – great hiking and lots of photographic/birding opportunities.
      As for the rest of them – you wouldn’t be disappointed.

  • Brooke of Passport Couture says:

    After seeing wonderful photos of Tofino, it’s definitely a place I want to return to Canada for a future visit. I’m excited I found this blog post to give me more ideas. I love Canada and will definitely have these towns on my radar for a future trip!

  • Gail Kesslar says:

    Thanks for highlighting Maple Creek – it truly is a gem that is central to so many larger centres on both sides of the Alberta and Saskatchewan borders. It is the gateway to the Cypress Hills and it is an incredibly vibrant little town, with tons of great energy and great things happening there! Knowing how great it is firsthand – I am now excited to go explore some of the other places you’ve mentioned that are in the same category!

  • Stephanie says:

    I loved Maple Creek, Saskatchewan! I was there summer 2014 and on the day we visited, there was a farmer’s market, a street fair and a rodeo going on. They have a great thrift shop, people were friendly and I’d love to return when I can spend a few days!

    I lived in Lacombe, and granted it is a lovely town, but it’s not exactly where you want to spend your teen years. :D

    Tofino… how do I love thee, Tofino?? A few years I took my kids there because all my daughter wanted to do on vacation was learn how to surf. I can’t tell you how happy we were with “Surf Sisters”, a surf school staffed by women, for women. The town itself is pretty granola cruncher, flipflop wearing, hipster grunge but don’t let that stop you from visiting! FYI, it’s also pretty expensive, as tourism is their main industry. Don’t plan on driving too fast, as your progress will likely be impeded by hordes of people on bicycles, some with racks set up to carry surfboards!

    • @Stephanie At least you lived reasonably close to Edmonton and Red Deer in your teens. Tofino is the one town that I would happily visit every year and no matter what the weather enjoy the experience. I am way overdue in that department.

      Thanks for your great comment.

  • Sophie@Sophie's World says:

    Of these I’ve only visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and that was very cute. Such a great variety of landscape in Canada.

  • Marlys says:

    I really wish we were at least 25 years younger. So many to see, so much to do. We’ve not even been to one Canadian city and here you’re tempting me to visit more! I really hope we get the chance.

    • @Marlys I think when you have so much to see that’s new and different close by, it takes a real effort to commit to going overseas- and taking a longer holiday. I think you’d be thrilled with what you found in Canada.

  • Geoff Adams says:

    Correction – Trinity (45 min from my home) only has about 40 or 50 year round residents.
    BUT WHERE IS ANTIGONISH, NOVA SCOTIA!?

  • Miranda says:

    What a great guide Leigh – Lacombe (just down the road) sounds like a must-visit. My goal next summer is to explore the prairies more so Maple Creek and Hecla are now on my radar – obviously petting cute goats while waiting for our pizza to cook sounds fun, especially for our little dude.

    • @Miranda Lacombe offers much more than meets the eye.I absolutely have to visit Brown Eggs and Lamb – for the name alone. The pizza place near Hecla is a great one for little people an Maple Creek is definitely worth a weekend trip. Do stay in the B&B for the authentic stagecoach experience.

  • Emiel says:

    Oh my…I feel we are lacking the time to visit all these beautiful places when I read travel blogs like yours. Maybe we should set up a rotation schedule with people like you so we can live in each other’s area for a year and move on! :) For sure your posts always make me daydream about characteristic and authentic places to visit…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.