18 Best Small Towns in Alberta worth exploring
Canada is filled with stunning landscapes, and sprinkled in it are small towns and hamlets. If you are planning a visit to the Canadian Rockies, plan to stop by one of the best small towns in Alberta and enjoy the mountains and the Prairies.
15+ Best Small Towns in Alberta Canada
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In Alberta (and generally in Canada) a town is created when communities exist with populations of at least 1,000 people and are given town status under the authority of the Municipal Government Act.
Alberta has a total of 106 towns, with Okotoks (pop. 2016 – 28,880) and Stavely (pop. 2016 – 541) being the largest and smallest of all towns respectively. Anytime a town exceeds 10, 000 people they are eligible for city status.
The highest frequency of towns in Alberta is found in the Queen Elizabeth II Highway corridor between Calgary and Edmonton (plus other areas like Carstairs, Didsbury, Bowden, Sylvan Lake, Lesser Slave Lake, Lethbridge, Innisfail, Penhold, Ponoka, and Millet).
You will also find towns located on the Alberta – Saskatchewan border.
We are lucky to call Alberta our home for the last 7+ years and have explored many of these towns as a road trip stop, or a weekend getaway destination. We also visited many of the cities and towns on the AB/SK border when we were planning our move to this province from Saskatchewan (like Vegreville and Lloydminster).
We have also included hamlets in this list, as it deserves a visit. A hamlet is a smaller geographical area (less than 100).
So here is the list we will be covering in this post
Best Small Towns in Alberta
- Smoky Lake
- Pincher Creek
- Drumheller & Rowley
- Peace River
- Lake Louise
- Grande Cache
- Fort Macleod
- Black Diamond
- Sylvan Lake
Population: 13,992 (2016)
Hands down, our favorite town in Alberta is Canmore. It is located just 20 minutes outside of Banff National Park, and has no entry fees (yay). The main street of Canmore is filled with pretty cafes and restaurants, including scenic mountain views everywhere.
One of our favorite activities in Canmore is to embark on walking and hiking trails in and around the town like the Policeman’s Creek and Grassi lakes. The town itself is also pedestrian friendly and less crowded than Banff town.
Located here is the Canmore Nordic Provincial Centre, a very popular skiing centre, originally created for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Very close to Canmore is the Nordic Spa in Kananaskis which brings a piece of Iceland’s hot springs close to home.
Canmore is a great option for accommodation as well if hotels in Banff are all booked during peak seasons. We LOVE Falcon Crest hotel, and it has been our favorite weekend getaway place for years. The hotel welcomes you with stunning views of the Three Sisters Mountain range, and they also have a hot tub on-site.
So you have quaint walking areas, cafes, cross-country ski, and mountain bike trails – what’s not to like about Canmore?
Population: 964 (2016)
Smoky Lake is a town in central Alberta. It is located on Highway 28, approximately 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Edmonton.
With a population of around 1000 residents, you must know that there are tons of things to do in Smoky Lake and around it.
This little town was first settled by homesteaders in the late 1800s. The provincial historic site of Victoria Settlement is nearby.
Smoky Lake is known for its annual pumpkin festival, which is held every October. If you are not visiting in October, you can still visit Pumpkin Park and take snaps of the large-size pumpkins!
Other than giant pumpkins you can visit the Smoky Lake CN Train Station Museum, and one of its many churches – First Baptist Church, Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church, or the Our Lady Of Atonement Roman Catholic Church.
If you wish to learn about the history of Indigenous Peoples, you must visit the Metis Crossing located in Smoky Lake.
Population: 3,642 (2016)
Pincher Creek is a small town in southern Alberta. The town is located at the confluence of the Castle and Waterton Rivers in the Rocky Mountain foothills, west of Lethbridge and south of Calgary.
We visited and stayed in this little town during our South Alberta road trip. But we never imagined how beautiful Pincher Creek is, prior to this visit.
As we approached the town limits, we were welcomed to gorgeous green rolling hills and windmills everywhere! The town is rightly known as the “Wind Capital of Canada.” The Pincher Creek region is becoming increasingly important for wind energy projects.
The town’s proximity to Waterton Lakes National Park, as well as its cultural and historical attractions, are all promoted as tourist destinations. Pincher Creek is also a great option for an overnight stay if you are visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump which is one of the oldest and largest preserved buffalo jumps in North America.
Drumheller & Rowley
Population: 7982 (Drumheller) and 9 (Rowley) 2016
Drumheller is a small town located about 1.50 hours from Calgary, and it is one of the easiest day trip options from here. Drumheller is known for the famous dinosaur museum – Royal Tyrrell Museum, which contains a large collection of dinosaur fossils.
When we visited the museum, we felt the place is so incredible and very different from the Rocky Mountains. It was definitely an amazing experience learning about fossils and the evolution and history of this place.
Just right outside of the museum, you can take a short walk to soak in the views of the Badlands. You can also embark on a hiking expedition to the Horsethief Canyon from here.
Near the town are other attractions like Midland Provincial Park, Hoodoos, Suspension bridges, coal mine tours (Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site), and many ghost towns.
Read: More day trips from Calgary Alberta
One of the intriguing ghost towns here is Rowley. Classified as a hamlet, Rowley has 9 residents, and it is located just north of Drumheller. Rowley was one of the industrial towns, and in the 1920s it had about 500 residents.
From the 1970s, the population started leaving. Today you will find empty houses and businesses which are being restored by the locals to bring in visitors.
Population: 2620 (2016)
Sexsmith is a town located north of Grande Prairie. Grande Prairie is one of the most populous cities in Alberta. Sexsmith is known as the “grain capital of the British Empire”, as it was one of the most fertile regions in the province.
The landscape and the drive in and around the city of Grande Prairie are beautiful, and deserve a stop at Sexsmith, as part of your road trip in Canada.
Grande Cache is an outdoor paradise surrounded by mountains, beaches, and many provincial parks. Technically, Grande Cache is considered a hamlet (administered by the Municipal District of Greenview No. 16). It held town status prior to 2019.
We embarked on a weekend getaway to Grande Cache from Edmonton. It is located on Highway 40 (Bighorn Highway or Scenic Route to Alaska) approximately 4 hours west of Edmonton. This route is also the shortest and most scenic route to Alaska from the United States. The nearest town is Hinton.
It is a great idea to explore Grande Cache on a road trip. In Grande Cache visit the Tourism Information center to learn about its history, shop at the local farmer’s market, go water rafting, hit the Grande Cache beach, and play at my favorite Labyrinth Park.
Grande Cache is also a getaway to the Sulphur Gates, William A. Switzer Provincial Park, and the Wilderness Provincial Park. The town’s location on a plateau, and near three valleys and the edge of the Rocky Mountains makes this town, now a hamlet, a perfect weekend escape from Edmonton.
Population: 29,277 (2016)
Cochrane is an industrial town located very close to Calgary. With a population of 29,277, it is actually one of the largest towns in Alberta (along the Edmonton Calgary corridor). It was established in 1881 and was named after a local rancher, Matthew Henry Cochrane.
As you drive from Edmonton or Red Deer to Calgary/Banff, you will be mesmerized by the fields and the surrounding homes and valley views. The town is surrounded by Rocky View County, which is home to one of the biggest outlet malls in the province (CrossIron Mall).
Ghost Lake Provincial Recreation Centre is located west of Cochrane. It is a reservoir formed along the Bow River, and it is a popular spot for ice fishing and skating in the winter.
You can stay in Cochrane, as it is a good alternative if hotels in the Rockies are expensive for you.
Population: 691 (2011)
We are including Lake Louise in this list because many visitors to the Canadian Rockies only explore the lake and then they return. And technically although Lake Louise is a hamlet, its population is close to 1000 (700 pop. to be exact), which is higher than the smallest town of Stavely.
So why visit the hamlet of Lake Louise? Of course, for the pristine turquoise lake itself. During summers you can canoe, embark on hikes, and road trips from here to Johnston Canyon or Yoho National Park in British Columbia.
During winters, stay at one of the resorts here and admire the winter wonderland in this stunning little town, attend ski events (Lake Louise Ski Resort), ice festivals, dog sledding, cross country skiing, and skate in the jaw-dropping natural ice rink here!
The servicing area of lake Louise is nice too. You can enjoy nice baked goods and dining here.
Population: 7847 (2016)
I am sure you know Banff National Park and the world-class tourist attractions here. But did you know Banff town also has little gems that you can enjoy within the municipality?
Banff is a resort town located within Banff National Park. Inside the town, you will find hotels and many restaurants (along Banff Avenue) to enjoy your stay. From multi-national cuisines to fine dining, and local breweries, Banff Ave has it all.
Don’t forget to stop by Fairmont Banff Springs and enjoy a castle food tour. Located close to Banff Springs are Sulphur Mountain Gondola, Bow Falls, the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, and my favorite Cascade Gardens. Cascade of Time Gardens is a beautiful terraced garden with beautiful flora and fauna and an Edwardian administrative building.
A few steps away from Cascade Gardens are the Cave and Basin Historic Site and the Upper Banff Hot Springs. Without a car, you can just explore walking and easy hiking and biking trails nearby (like the Marsh Loop and Vermillion lakes).
Population: 2700 (2016)
Nestled in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies is the town of Black Diamond. It is home to Canada’s best ranch counties. Black Diamond came into prominence in the early 20th century due to the discovery of coal beds nearby, hence the name.
Black Diamond is more of a drive-by town to enjoy from Calgary and Okotoks. You can stay in either city.
Population: 6578 (2016)
Devon is located very close to Edmonton, about 26 km (16 miles) southwest of the capital city. It is named after the Devonian formations from the Paleozoic era. This area is populated and is located near the Edmonton International Airport in Leduc.
The town came into existence in the mid-20th century, when one of the largest oil discoveries in the world was found here.
One of the popular attractions here is the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, also called the Devonian Gardens. It is a nice picnic spot, and great for a date night. The gardens have curated waterfalls, butterfly conservatory, Japanese gardens, and Aga Khan gardens to name a few.
Other attractions in the town include Devon Voyageur Park, Devon Spray Park, and Bunchberry Meadows Conservation Area.
Population: 9882 (2016)
Hinton is one of the largest towns in Alberta. It is located in Yellowhead County, less than an hour from Jasper town and about 3 hours west of Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city.
Hinton is a great weekend destination from Edmonton for history and nature lovers. You can enjoy cross country skiing, fishing, archery, mountain biking, and of course tons of nature trails for hiking and walks.
Hinton has a lot of parks where you can spend an entire day with friends and family (BBQ, or picnics).
For the history lover, head to the Forestry Service Museum to enjoy interesting artifacts. Hinton Coal Branch Archives and the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage are must-visits to learn about the town’s historic past.
The latter is housed in Hinton’s original 1911 Grand Trunk Pacific Railway station, and you will learn about the town’s railway and communication history here.
Population: 2967 (2016)
Fort Macleod is named after North West Mounted Police Colonel James Macleod. It was originally named Macleod and has a strong NWMP heritage.
The NWMP Fort Museum is a must-visit here. This fort is home to beautiful historic displays, and there are live performances conducted during the tourist season.
Next on the list is the Empress Theatre. It is lovingly remembered as a ‘first class opera house’. It was opened in 1912, and till day continues to showcase movies, and theatre work.
Population: 105 (2016)
Waterton is a town (some also call it a hamlet), and it is located within the Waterton National Park. This park is part of the Canadian Rockies.
The town of Waterton is small, so is the national park, and it is not very crowded which makes it perfect for quiet romantic and outdoor getaways. Explore their wildlife, hiking trails, camp, and soak in those mesmerizing mountain views.
You can compare the downtown area of Waterton to Jasper municipality, so you will find cafes and restaurants, and hotels in the area. Read our guide on – things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Population: 6,729 (2016)
Want a piece of France in Alberta? Head to Rivière-la-Paix aka Peace River. Originally named Peace River Crossing, this town is located 1,000 feet below flat terrain and situated along the banks of the Peace River, at its confluence of the Smoky River, the Heart River, and Pat’s Creek.
Edmonton and Grande Prairie are the closest cities to Peace River. The Town of Peace River is home to First Nation communities, French-Canadian farming communities, and Mennonite and Hutterite German-Canadian farming communities.
The town came into prominence in the 17th century with the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the eastern part of Canada and then pushing their way to the west. There are a lot of historic sites in the region like the NAR station (railway station, you can participate in Alberta Prairie Steam Tours).
The Catholic St. Augustine Mission is another heritage site (established in 1888); where the missionaries first came to the Peace country, to educate the First Nations community.
Peace River was also the site of the 2004 Alberta Winter Games.
Another French town to visit in Alberta is Legal. The town of Legal is known as the French Mural Capital of Canada.
Population: 1529 (2016)
Bon Accord is a town located very close to Edmonton on Highway 28. This town is known for ‘Dark-Sky’ preserve sites, where you can chase the Northern Lights.
A dark-sky preserve is an area that restricts artificial light pollution and is away from the metropolis. There are 5 dark-sky preserves in Alberta, and they are created for astronomy and stargazing. Bon Accord is the first community in Canada to be recognized as an International Dark Sky Community.
This town is named and derived from the ancestral home of the first settler of “Bon Accord”.
Population: 5708 (2016)
Vegreville is another Alberta town worth exploring. We explored it while traveling from Saskatoon to Edmonton (during our inter-provincial move). There is a rail line connecting Vegreville to Edmonton and to Lloydminster (AB/SK border town).
One characteristic feature of small towns in the Prairies is ONE dramatic statue or a unique name. And Vegreville is home to the world’s largest pysanka, which greets you as soon as you arrive. (Huge statues are more evident in Saskatchewan’s small towns than Alberta’s like the largest Tomahawk in Cut Knife, or Moose in MooseJaw to name a few).
Anyhow, pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, and Vegreville is home to a lot of Ukrainian Canadians. The annual Pysanka Festival is celebrated here, and it occurs during the first weekend of July.
Vegreville was home to one of the largest case processing centres (for Permanent Residents, and Citizenship applications) in western Canada it was closed in 2018-19, and the office moved to Edmonton.
Population: 14,816 (2016)
After visiting Sylvan Lake in 2020, we had to include this pretty town in our list of small towns in Alberta. Conveniently located between Edmonton and Calgary (also a great day trip idea from each), Sylvan Lake makes for a wonderful visit at all times of the year.
The town gets its charm from the lighthouse located at the Rotary Club Park. A replica of the famous Peggy’s Cove near Halifax in Nova Scotia. The park was opened in 2016.
Equally wonderfully is the Centennials Park, home to 5 acres of lush greenery that you see along Lakeshore Drive. The sunsets from this park are amazing. You can enjoy a romantic sunset from one of the many Adirondack chairs that line the park. The park also has beautifully groomed flowers and trees.
For your convenience, the waterfront and the downtown area have restaurants, and hotels located. Whether it is food/restaurants, sandy beach, resort, or views of the Sylvan Lake Lighthouse, you can’t miss the waterfront area!
So, that’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed this list of small towns in Alberta Canada.
More posts on Alberta Cities Towns and Nationals Parks
- Banff: Christmas in Banff
- Banff Hikes: Epic hikes in Banff National Park
- Banff Airbnbs: Best Airbnbs in Banff
- Bragg Creek: Things to do in Bragg Creek
- Alberta Airbnbs: Best Airbnbs in Alberta
All of these small towns are so cute! I loved Banff when I visited a few years ago and stayed in Canmore, which was also gorgeous. I love how Alberta is in the mountains and also in the plains. 🙂
I would love to go on a road trip around Alberta and visit some of these gorgeous little towns. I can imagine this as a very relaxing holiday, with good food and stunning scenery.
Banff and Lake Louise have been on my bucket list for so long! I keep visiting Canada in the wintertime, and am not a snow-safe driver so I never get out there. I’ll have to plan a summer trip one day!
I want to visit ALL these towns in Alberta! They all look so quaint and sweet.
So many beautiful towns I didn’t even know about. I’ve been to the Rockies a few times being from BC, but really need to explore Alberta further. I did make it to Drumheller last year, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and wasn’t disappointed but it looks like Waterton might be the next one on my list
Such a great post. I’ve never even heard about many of these places and they are so unique! Cannot wait to visit Canada!
So glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you!
All of these towns are so adorable and picturesque! I think Grande Cache is first on my list, it is too cute. I also love all of the outdoor activities and the beautiful scenery.
I never knew there were hoodoos like that in Canada! Woah.
I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Louise and Banff! I will have to save this post for some ideas when I finally travel there. Thanks for this awesome post!
I seriously CANNOT wait until the US/Canada border is open so I can explore more of Canada – especially Banff. I’ve only been to Niagara Falls, so I know there’s a lot more to see!
This is such a lovely roundup! Great idea as I always want to get into the small towns but it’s hard to find information on them. Grande Cache looks really beautiful…and I’m gonna have to stop at Sexsmith just to make fertility jokes. 🙂
I love the concept of featuring small towns. I’ve been to Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise but I’ve really like to spend some time in the tiny towns where people don’t flock. Your gorgeous photos really tell the story of these towns.
I still haven’t made it out to the west coast of Canada but really would love to! I like the sounds of visiting the dinosaur museum in Drumheller and going to explore the nearby areas. I’ve really only heard of Canmore to be honest, but the rest of the places on your list look great to visit!
I’ve honestly never heard of any of these until now but they all look adorable!
I haven’t been to Alberta in forever! Thanks for this, brought back memories.
Looks like a great list. I have not heard of most of these cities and towns. The ones I have are Banff, Jasper, and Beaumont. Out of these Banff really attracts me a lot for its scenic beauty.
Gosh, these places look amazing – all of them! Or you are an excellent photographer. Or both… While the rocks around Drumheller and Rowley look absolutely fascinating, other towns just seem to have a pleasant and cozy feel to it. My favorite picture, however, is the one with the grain silos – really nice. Would it be possible to travel by public bus or do you have to have your own vehicle? Since I’m not driving, I always have to check – particularly in North America – and maybe Canada, too?
Thank you so much! Yes, these places are best explored with a car. But there are shuttle buses available for places like Banff, Drumheller, Hinton, etc.
Such mesmerizing and beautiful collection of places! Wish I get to visit atleast some in the future.
This post has convinced me that i need to take a trip to Canada, specially to Alberta. I had only seen about the beauty of Canada and Alberta till now in TV shows, but these pictures have hit a different nerve all together. Its interesting to know that a community of 1000+ people is referred to as a town in Canada.
When i visit, Banff National Park is sure going to be on the top of my radar.