Canada, our recently reopened northern neighbor, boasts an extraordinarily diverse geography, from tall Rocky Mountain peaks, to expansive flat prairie land, to seaside communities on both coasts. And with a smaller national population than that of California, alone, it's perhaps unsurprising that Canada is also full of charming small towns and friendly rural communities worth planning a trip around. For your next adventure north, here are some of the best small towns in Canada to explore now that Americans hitting the road (and skies) to visit once again.
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Tofino, British Columbia
Set on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a surfer's paradise and nature-lover's retreat. This small seaside town is located on the land of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and is surrounded by a UNESCO reserve with over 21 miles of beach break, making the water's edge never more than a short walk away. Tofino has also become a culinary destination with travelers venturing to try creative local dishes at the acclaimed Wolf and the Fog or live-fire dining at ROAR, or booking time on a chartered boat through the Tofino Resort and Marina to indulge in the Cook Your Catch experience.
Where to Stay: The Wickaninnish Inn
Osoyoos, British Columbia
The town of Osoyoos in the South Okanagan is known for its arid desert landscapes that meet pristine lakefront beaches. While this region is known for its many wineries, there are plenty of outdoor adventure activities to enjoy, too, from South Okanagan E-Bike Safaris to Wakepilot boat rentals, as well as artistic and heritage experiences at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Begin your wine-tasting adventures at the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, Nk’Mip Cellars, and continue on to other locally-owned wineries like Covert Farms Family Estate Winery, Kismet Estate Winery and restaurant, and vinAmité Cellars; finish off at North Basin Brewing Co., the first brewery in Osoyoos.
Where to Stay: Watermark Beach Resort Hotel
Instead of venturing into busy Banff National Park, consider exploring the laidback mountain town of Canmore. This town can serve as your home base as you explore the rolling foothills of the Canadian Rockies and rushing mountain creeks. Located only one hour east of Calgary, Canmore is the ideal spot for a day trip into the mountains or a relaxing escape at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. For the best views, book an aerial excursion with Alpine Helicopters.
Where to Stay: Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Autograph Collection (and dine at the property's Cedar Room restaurant)
The town of Waterton is just minutes away from Waterton Lakes National Park, where you can explore both the low-land prairies and steep Rocky Mountain peaks. For experienced hikers, the Crypt Lake trail begins with a 15-minute boat ride to the trailhead where switchbacks meander past four waterfalls, up a steel ladder, through a rock-face tunnel, and around a cliff face that requires the assistance of mounted steel cables. For a more leisurely (and scenic) experience, the Bear's Hump hike offers stunning views of the village. Or, explore the area off-foot on a lake excursion with Waterton Shoreline Cruise. Head to Thirsty Bear Kitchen + Bar after any adventure for casual dining. At night, wind down with stargazing, as Waterton is a provisional International Dark Sky Park that makes for dazzling constellations.
Where to Stay: Prince of Wales Hotel
Dawson City, Yukon
The town of Dawson City serves as a living monument to the Klondike Gold Rush era, when prospectors searched for treasures in the flowing waters. It has a colorful frontier-era downtown, complete with wooden boardwalk and preserved vintage saloons. While there is still gold in the Yukon, the territory is now known for its wildlife and boasts an unspoiled wilderness, not to mention a vibrant culinary scene and indigenous First Nations culture that visitors can learn about at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. Located on the shore of the Yukon River, it tells the story of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in people who have lived on these lands for thousands of years. Dine on local seasonal fare at the general-store-style cafe and restaurant Bonton & Company.
Where to Stay: The new Dawson Lodge or Midnight Sun Hotel (reopening fall 2021)
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan
Maple Creek is a charming prairie town centered around a heritage district where visitors can shop, eat, and cool off from the prairie sun with a drink from Rafter R Brewing Co or the Daily Grind coffee shop. For the best views of the region, hike up to Bald Butte and Lookout Point, the highest point in the Centre Block of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Or explore the region's family highlights with Grotto Gardens Family Fun Farm's alpacas, the T.rex Discovery Centre (home to the world's largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton), and Fort Walsh NHS, where the North-West Mounted Police began. After, unwind at Rockin’ Horse Cookout and Market with bar fare and live music.
Where to Stay: Cobble Creek Lodge
The small resort town of Gimli celebrates its Icelandic heritage with Viking battle re-enactments at an Icelandic Festival every August. Set on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg, Gimli is perfect for a beachside weekend getaway, and is only a one-hour drive from the capital city of Winnipeg.
Where to Stay: The waterfront Lakeview Gimli Resort (and dine at the property's Seagulls Restaurant & Lounge)
Visit the picturesque town of Elora to catch a glimpse of its cascading waterfalls while hiking through the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. The village's 19th-century buildings lining its main streets house cafes, restaurants, and a collection of artisan's stores. The town also attracts several arts and cultural festivals and seasonal farmers' markets during the warmer months. Dine at The Evelyn for lunch or dinner with a French feel.
Where to Stay: Elora Mill Hotel & Spa
The rolling farmlands of Prince Edward County are home to some of the best wineries in Ontario. While there are several towns in this region, make the waterfront town of Wellington your home base to explore the cafes and shops on foot. During your tasting, add the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery, Sandbanks Estate Winery, Closson Chase Vineyards, Rosehall Run Vineyards, Waupoos Estates Winery & Restaurant, and Hinterland Wine Company to your itinerary. And be sure to bring your bathing suit to enjoy a day at the beach dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Where to Stay: The Drake Devonshire
Located on the edge of the peninsula at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Gaspé is a quaint coastal town with something for everyone. The Maritime Quebec region is the ideal spot to explore the area by water on a whale-watching cruise from Croisières Baie de Gaspé or learn about the region's history at the Musée de la Gaspésie. The adventurous can book a glamping experience at Forillon National Park, or if you're looking to stay in town there are several B&Bs. The town is part of the International Greeter Association, which offers free walking tours in French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. For waterfront dining with a stunning view of the area's rocky coastline (and maybe some seals) dine at Restaurant Paqb.
Where to Stay: Hotel Plante downtown
Saint Andrews-by-the-sea, New Brunswick
The scenic coastal town of Saint Andrews-by-the-sea is bursting with history as one of New Brunswick's oldest settlements. Only a half an hour drive from the U.S. border adjacent to Maine, this town has become a popular vacation destination for both Canadian and American travelers looking for relaxation, rounds of golf, and freshly caught seafood at waterfront spots like The Gables Restaurant. Located on the Bay of Fundy, your view will change as the tides rise and recede Passamaquoddy Bay. On land, wander through the pristine 27-acres of Kingsbrae Garden, ranging from floral gardens, Acadian forests, and sculptures.
Where to Stay: The Algonquin Resort St. Andrews by-the-Sea, Autograph Collection
Souris, Prince Edward Island
PEI's Souris offers visitors stunning seascape views that only add to the town's charm. Cool off with an over-the-top cone from Cherry on Top Creamery, or grab a bite from Chef Michael Smith's Flavour Shack at the Souris Beach Gateway Park, or the waterfront 21 Breakwater Restaurant. A trip to Souris isn't complete without a photo of the Souris Historic Lighthouse or a day out at sea with the Fiddling Fisherman. Souris is also a stop on the island's 297-mile-wide Confederation Trail, which links the towns and seaside communities of Prince Edward Island via cycling and hiking trails.
Article By: CN Traveler