By TVR Staff
Think of Western Canada, and things like stunning natural scenery, world-class ski slopes, and maybe even a cowboy or two come to mind — but charm? We went on a search through the region to find what we could call the 30 most charming towns in Western Canada, and we think we’ve found plenty of just that.
While we found way more than 30 towns to fit our needs, we ultimately narrowed it down based on the following methodology. First, we only considered towns in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba — “Western Canada” as defined by Statistics Canada. Then we considered charm level. Since charm can mean all sorts of different things, we considered such characteristics as tourist draws, historic sites, heritage events, common architecture, and surrounding nature.
There is no way we could compile a list of Western Canada’s most charming small towns and leave off Banff. This small village, which is actually located in its own national park, is practically picture perfect. The Canadian Rockies act as a backdrop for streets lined with chalet-style architecture, hotels that look more like palaces, and of course, stunning glimpses of nature. Bow River flows right through town, while lakes, hot springs, and three ski resorts are all a hop, skip, and a jump away. Interested in the backcountry? Check out Egypt Lake to Twin Lakes: An Introduction to Multiday Backpacking.
A proud French heritage and lots of opportunities for outdoor adventure are just two of many reasons Beaumont, Alberta make our list of the most charming towns in Western Canada. A trip to Beaumont means slowing life down for a while. An extensive trail system for walking and cycling runs through and around Beaumont and its more than 35 parks. If you happen to be in town during the winter, you’ll have your choice of seven outdoor skating rinks, while the warmer months are the perfect time for hiking, biking, or enjoying the Waterspray Park.
Located only three kilometers from Turner Valley, which also makes our list of the most charming towns in Western Canada, is Black Diamond. This thriving artistic community offers visitors and residents lots of amenities, including galleries, shops, and a full calendar of events such as the Canada Day Celebration, Diamond Music Fest, Marv’s Rock & Roll Classic, the Diamond Valley Christmas Market, and Light-Up December, to name but a few.
Bon Accord, Alberta is both charming and award winning! Named for the original name of Aberdeen in Scotland, Bon Accord is close enough to Edmonton to be a convenient and popular weekend destination. It’s especially popular among astronomers and other stargazers, for the fact that it’s the only Dark Sky Community (so named by the International Dark Sky Association) in Canada.
Like so many other towns on our list, outdoor lovers are sure to swoon over Camrose. This scenic Alberta town is located smack dab in the middle of the province’s picturesque prairie and farm lands, much of which transitions to groomed cross-country ski trails come winter time. Camrose’s historic downtown is an inviting place to spend time either winter or summer, with nearly 30 independently owned shops, a top-ranked collection of restaurants, and picturesque ponds and streams complete with fish and trumpeter swans.
Located no more than 30 minutes from Banff is Canmore, yet another beautiful and charming Alberta town situated in the Rockies. Canmore’s downtown looks like a village scene from a fairy tale, complete with snowcapped mountains forming the backdrop. Residents and visitors alike love all of the outdoor adventure Canmore has to offer, from rock climbing and skiing, to cycling and hiking.
Drive down Canora’s meticulously landscaped streets and you’ll quickly realize you’ve come to one charming town. Canora is located in the midst of “Good Spirit Country,” the Saskatchewan region famous for its many top-notch hunting and fishing spots. Canora’s many lakes, trails, and wilderness areas attract people from all over looking for outdoor recreational activities. Downtown, visitors can window shop, eat, and explore Canada’s only Toy and Autograph Museum, the Ukrainian Heritage Museum, and the CN Station House Museum.
Cycling, hiking, camping, fishing, cross-country skiing — if it’s an outdoor pastime, then it can be done in Chetwynd. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Chetwynd is a favorite go-to for city dwellers and tourists thanks to its proximity to nature and its laid-back atmosphere. It’s especially popular among hikers and cyclists because of its professionally designed trail system. But not everything notable about Chetwynd has to do with nature. The town is home to dozens of chainsaw carvings, a unique collection that has become a well-known feature.
Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia is one of those places that is instantly recognizable thanks to its colorful pier and waterfront buildings on stilts. Everything in Cowichan Bay seems to be about slowing down, and enjoying, life. The town’s main streets are lined with artisan shops, organic bakeries, fresh seafood restaurants, and other places serving delightful fare. The town is also home to the Cowichan Bay Estuary, an excellent place to enjoy kayaking or whale watching, and the seasonal home to more than 200 species of birds.
It can’t be a common thing that a small town named for an old science fiction novel should be considered one of the most charming small towns in Western Canada, and yet that is exactly the case with Flin Flon. The town, which is named for Flintabbatey Flonatin from “The Sunless City,” is nestled in Manitoba’s famed Lake District. It’s home to the annual Trout Festival, a farm team for the Philadelphia Flyers, and the tallest freestanding structure in Western Canada (the Hudson Bay smokestack). That’s quite an impressive C.V. for a town with a population of only about 5,000.
Forget (pronounced “for-jay”) may not have a school, or a bank, grocery store, or post office, but what it lacks in social services it sure makes up for in charm. This tiny town has become a go-to for artists of all kinds. A 40-seat theater puts on performances and houses exhibitions, while performers can often be found on the streets of downtown. Forget even boasts a community restaurant/meeting place — a bilingual little charmer called Happy Nun Cafe.
An outdoor lover’s paradise, Fort Nelson is a charming small town located along the Alaska Highway in British Columbia. The quaint community takes its local adventure seriously, though Fort Nelson also attracts a fair number of tourists each season. In winter, the local golf course and hiking trails become places to go cross-country skiing, while summer is the perfect time for golfing, hiking, bird-watching, and visiting some of the many local historical sites such as the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum (pictured).
Golden is located where the Columbia River meets the Kicking Horse River, nestled below mountain sides covered in pine trees. Visitors to Golden are likely to find that they feel right at home in this charming town, thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and welcoming community. Downtown, one can find a selection of top-notch restaurants and lots of alpine-style architecture, but Golden’s real charm comes in the form of nature. The town is surrounded by a whopping five national parks, all of which attract visitors from around the world looking for prime mountain biking, hiking, white-water rafting, paragliding, and wildlife viewing.
On more than one occasion Houston’s been called one of the friendliest and most welcoming towns in Western Canada. This small community is well-known for its stunning natural surroundings, restaurants serving delicious homestyle meals, and optimal fishing. Indeed, Houston is known as the “Steelhead Capital of the World” thanks to the quantity and quality of fish here. Even Steelhead Park (pictured) is named after the town’s favorite fish!
Make one trip to the small town of Jasper and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular vacation destination for people from all over the world. The town is surrounded by mountains, and boasts a natural hot spring, a number of uniquely turquoise lakes, a national park, and lots of places to ski and hike. But head to downtown Jasper and you’ll find a charming town complete with tree-lined streets, stone buildings, and lots of shops and restaurants. Like Banff, the Jasper area offers opportunity for some great backcountry adventure. See Backpacking Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park.
Not only is Lake Louise one of the most recognizable lakes in the entire world, it also happens to be one of the most charming towns — okay, hamlets — in Western Canada. This tiny resort village is surrounded on all four sides by the towering Rockies, so not surprisingly it’s a great place to enjoy any kind of outdoor activity. Its crown jewel is most certainly the aforementioned lake, with its blue waters that practically beg for a day of kayaking or paddling.
One need not travel to Quebec to experience French-Canadian culture! Legal, a charming small town of around 1,200 people, was founded as a Francophone settlement, and remains mighty proud of its history and heritage. The town is still bilingual, and each July, the Fete Au Village festival is held to celebrate its French culture. Legal is also known as the French Mural Capital of Canada thanks to the 28 colorful murals located in various places around town.
A mere 40 minutes from Calgary is Nanton, a charming small town located in southern Alberta. Nanton’s crown jewel is certainly its downtown. Here, the main streets are lined with beautiful historic buildings now purposed as shops and boutiques, galleries, and cafes. Though Nanton is always worth a visit, it feels extra special and authentic during summer weekends, when it hosts one of the country’s most famous night rodeos.
Located an eight-hour drive from either Vancouver or Calgary, and situated amongst stunning natural beauty is Nelson. This laid-back community of 10,000 prides itself on its love of the outdoors. The town sits next to the largest lake in British Columbia, so water sports, fishing, and hiking are some of the most popular pastimes. Visitors looking for charm won’t go wrong visiting the downtown area. Here, farmers markets are held among beautiful historical architecture and Victorian-era homes, farm-to-table restaurants are plentiful, and lots of independently owned shops and galleries make for delightful window shopping.
Nipawin takes historic charm to a whole new level! Known as “Saskatchewan’s Playground,” Nipawin attracts visitors looking for a great place to fish, boat, hunt, or camp. There are two lakes to enjoy here, Codette Lake and Tobin Lake, as well as an iconic historic bridge dating back to 1928. In downtown Nipawin, visitors can explore the town’s museums and shops, and dine at the impressive number of regionally famous eateries.
Though it’s the second largest town in northwestern Alberta, with a name like Peace River it should come as no surprise that this place is full of charm. It’s isolated status means tons of untouched nature. The town itself is situated along the river for which it is named, with a large Riverfront Park that hosts a full calendar of community events. Just outside the main part of town is Misery Mountain, which despite its name, is a popular place to hike to stunning views of the river and town.
Our list of charming towns in Western Canada wouldn’t be complete without the quaint waterfront town of Prince Rupert. With its fresh seafood restaurants, museums, and cultural tours, downtown Prince Rupert is a great place to spend time. But it’s the nearby waterfront that makes Prince Rupert a true must visit. This unique little area known as Cow Bay is lined with restaurants and shops, and in the summer makes for a great spot from which to watch the cruise ships come through.
Founded in the late 1800s to accommodate the new Canadian Pacific transcontinental railroad, the small town of Revelstoke is steeped in historic charm. Revelstoke’s downtown area is an absolute must see. The buildings lining the main streets nearly all date back to the 19th century, and have been lovingly restored into hotels, restaurants, and locally owned shops. And like so many other charming towns in Western Canada, Revelstoke is surrounded by stunning natural scenery. In summertime, visitors come from far and wide to take part in hiking activities, or to go horseback riding or kayaking, while popular winter pastimes include skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, and even heliskiing.
You’re likely to feel right at home on a visit to Stonewall, Manitoba. The town’s historic Main Street is lined with lots of shopping and dining options, many of which are independently and locally owned. This main pedestrian area is flanked by the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex, a popular place to play in the snow come wintertime. Nearby Quarry Park, with its system of hiking trails, is yet another place to enjoy the outdoors, while Oak Hammock Marsh has proven to be one of the best places in all of North America to spend time bird watching.
Called the “ultimate Alberta vacation destination,” the charming town of Sylvan Lake has something to offer just about anyone. Those who enjoy shopping and exploring will love the historic downtown area with its restaurants, boutiques, and tree-lined sidewalks from which to window shop. The town’s famous freshwater lakes, on the other hand, provide a near endless list of fun activities, including just lying around on the sandy beaches. No wonder Sylvan Lake hosts more than 1 million visitors each year.
As one of the oldest communities in the province, The Pas, Manitoba is pretty well known for both its charm and stunning natural surroundings. Though the town itself, with its iconic historic festivals like the Trapper’s Festival and Opasquia Days, is a draw for visitors in its own right, most people make their way to The Pas for the nature. One of the only truly blue lakes in the world is here, as is lots of space for hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, and just about any other outdoor pastime one can think of.
Tofino may resemble the popular surf towns of California, but this charming town in British Columbia is mighty proud of its Canadian heritage. Each year, tourists make their way here to Tofino to take in the awe inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean, enjoy some of the best beaches and surfing in all of Canada, and if they’re really lucky, spot some whales. Downtown has lots of restaurants and shops, while old-growth forests just outside city limits make for a nice place to enjoy a hike.
Thanks to its location at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, Turner Valley in Alberta is a charming town where anyone can slow life down for the moment and just enjoy the outdoors. Campgrounds and fishing spots are abundant here, while the many wide-open spaces prove just perfect for such activities as nature walking, horseback riding, hiking, and myriad other outdoor pastimes.
The laid-back town of Ucluelet proved to be an easy addition to our list of the most charming towns in Western Canada. Known locally as “Ukee,” the town boasts lots of artisan shops and galleries, inviting inns and B&Bs, and a number of appealing restaurants. Stemming from the town is the Wild Pacific Trail, a 5.3-mile coastal trail offering excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife hiking, or cycling.
Located about three hours from Calgary and sitting just over the border from Montana is the charming small town of Waterton Park. The town boasts some of the best hiking in Western Canada thanks to its situation within Waterton Lakes National Park and its beautiful natural scenery, including lots of rivers and a stunning mountainscape. As the Travel Alberta website declares, “Nowhere else in the world will you find a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve all rolled into one.”