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15+ Best Small Towns in Alberta worth exploring

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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 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 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 largest and smallest of all towns respectively. Anytime a town exceeds 10, 000 people they are eligible for a city status. 

The highest frequency of towns in Alberta is found in the Queen Elizabeth II Highway corridor between Calgary and Edmonton (plus areas like Carstairs, Didsbury, Bowden, Sylvan Lake, Lethbridge, Innisfail, Penhold, Ponoka, and Millet). You will also find towns located on the Alberta – Saskatchewan border. 

Devonian Gardens Devon
Devonian Gardens in Devon

We are lucky to call Alberta our home for the last 6+ 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 

  1. Canmore
  2. Drumheller & Rowley
  3. Sexsmith
  4. Cochrane
  5. Waterton 
  6. Peace River
  7. Devon 
  8. Banff
  9. Lake Louise
  10. Jasper 
  11. Grande Cache
  12. Fort Macleod
  13. Beaumont 
  14. Black Diamond 
  15. Vegreville
  16. Sylvan Lake

Canmore

Canmore Best Small towns in Alberta Bucket list
Canmore Best Small towns in Alberta Bucket list

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 Best Small towns in Alberta
Canmore Best Small towns in Alberta

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 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!

Drumheller & Rowley

Hoodoos near Drumheller
Hoodoos near Drumheller

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. 

Rowley Small towns in Alberta
Rowley Small towns in Alberta

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. 

Sexsmith 

Population: 2620 (2016)

Sexsmith is a town located north of Grande Prairie. Grande Prairie is one of the 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 is beautiful, and deserves a stop at Sexsmith, as part of your road trip in Canada.

Grande Cache

Sulphur Gates Grande Cache
Sulphur Gates Grande Cache

Population: 3571 

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. 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. 

Things to do in Grande Cache Alberta Canada
Things to do in Grande Cache Alberta Canada

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 hamlet, a perfect weekend escape from Edmonton. 

Cochrane

Cochrane Alberta
Cochrane Alberta

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.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise Ski Resort

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. 

Banff Town

View of Banff town - Alberta towns
View of Banff town – Alberta towns

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 the 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, fine dining and local breweries, Banff Ave has it all.

Views of Banff: Banff Itinerary 3 days
Banff’s Cascade of Time Gardens

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. 

Few steps away from Cascade Gardens is 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). 

Black Diamond

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 discovery of coal beds nearby, and hence the name. 

Black Diamond is more of a drive-by town to enjoy from Calgary and Okotoks. You can stay in either city.

Devon 

University of Alberta Devon
Devon

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, Aga Khan gardens to name a few. 

Other attractions in the town include: Devon Voyageur Park, Devon Spray Park and Bunchberry Meadows Conservation Area. 

Hinton 

Population: 9882 (2016)

Hinton is one of the largest towns in Alberta. It is located in Yellowhead County, about 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 the history and nature lover. 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 a must visit 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.

Fort Macleod

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 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.

Waterton Park

Watertown Lakes National Park in Canada seen from the Bears Hump.
Watertown Lakes National Park in Canada seen from the Bears Hump.

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, hotels in the area. 

Peace River 

Peace River Regional Area Alberta
Peace River Regional Area Alberta

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 at 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.

Bon Accord

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 Northern Lights. 

A dark-sky preserve is an area which restricts artificial light pollution and is away from 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 a first settler of “Bon Accord”.

Vegreville

Vegreville Small town Alberta
Vegreville Small town Alberta

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 an 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, Citizenship applications) in western Canada and it was closed in 2018-19, and the office moved to Edmonton. 

Sylvan Lake

Population: 14,816 (2016)

Things to do in Sylvan Lake in winter
Sylvan Lake Alberta

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 the 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 has 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.

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21 Comments

  1. 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. 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. Such a great post. I’ve never even heard about many of these places and they are so unique! Cannot wait to visit Canada!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

    1. 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.

  14. 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.

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