Artisan Crafts, Dinosaurs (Yes, Really!) and More in Canada’s Idyllic Small TownsBy Sandra MacGregor
What is it about small towns that seems to imbue them with the power to instantly press “pause” on life’s stressors for even the weariest of travelers? Whatever the magical formula at play, Canada has a treasure-trove of small, bucolic boroughs that are low on crowds but high on charisma and lie just a couple of hours away from major cities.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
From Vancouver to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Escape the bustle of Vancouver with a quick ferry ride to Salt Spring Island. Delve into the area’s creative side with a self-guided Salt Spring Studio Tour, where you’ll visit the studios of local craftspeople and see for yourself why the island is known as a haven for artists.
Or, for a tasty souvenir, visit Salt Spring Island Cheese, famed for its artisan goat cheeses all made on a local island farm. You can even watch the cheese being made and wander the farm for a chance to say hello to the friendly goats.
If you’ve worked up a thirst while cheese tasting, head over to Salt Spring Wild Cider to enjoy some sample flights of crisp cider harvested from regional apple orchards.
For an opportunity to tap into the island’s natural beauty, check out the Salt Spring Adventure Company. The company offers kayak excursions for all ages and skill levels, and there’s even a sunset or gourmet picnic tour available.
Afterward, sooth your sore muscles at Solace Organic Spa. This enchanting retreat is set in a Zen-like forest and uses products for its own island-made skincare line.
From Toronto to Prince Edward County, Ontario
Just two hours east of Toronto lies Prince Edward County, though it may feel a world away from the city’s crowds. The county’s most iconic offering is the seemingly endless array of towering sandy dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park, said to house the world’s largest freshwater dune system. It’s a wonderful spot for beach swims and camping.
Learn about the secret life of bees with beekeeper Elis Ziegler and sample an incredible selection of honey through the Bee Experience at the Curious Goat General Store. Imbibe some local wine and cheese at Lighthall Vineyards or indulge in a more “spirited” tasting at Kinsip Distillery, where cocktails are crafted with one of a dozen spirits made on-site.
Yearning for something even more secluded? Picton Bay is reputed to offer some of the top walleye fishing on Earth, so why not charter a boat with Bay of Quinte Charters and go fishing? Or explore the historic Black River with Cabin Fever Kayak.
More of a landlubber? Take a tour of a working farm (complete with alpacas, sheep and the eye-catching, Insta-worthy chickens) at Lamb’s Quarters Farm.
From Halifax to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Lunenburg’s Old Town is one of just a few urban communities in North America awarded status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the tiny port town packs in a number of interesting places to explore.
Discover the original, colorful colonial buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries with an informative walking tour or embrace the town’s old-world vibe on a horse-and-buggy outing. Seaweed Tours also offers picturesque shuttle tours of the harbor area and beyond. Finally, stroll into the Laurie Swim Quilt Gallery to see quilts made into incomparable works of art.
Set in a former blacksmith’s shop, Ironworks Distillery is know for its vodka made from apples grown in the nearby Annapolis Valley. Stop for a pint and a pound of Nova Scotia’s Indian Point mussels served up eight different ways at the Salt Shaker Deli.
But don’t leave without indulging in the town’s signature Lunenburger at The Grand Banker Bar & Grill; the burger comes complete with local beef, mozzarella and smoked bacon, all topped with fresh Nova Scotia lobster and a bacon-wrapped scallop — bring your stretchy pants!
From Calgary to Drumheller, Alberta
Have an interest in paleontology? Drumheller, the so-called “dinosaur capital of the world,” lies an hour and a half outside of Calgary. The remains of some 20 dinosaurs have been discovered in the area, and the quintessential Drumheller experience is found at the acclaimed Royal Tyrrell Museum. Here you’ll find one of the largest displays of dinosaurs on the planet, as well as short interpretive hiking trails around the museum.
Or drive to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can actually participate in a fossil dig. Tour old mine shafts and learn about the history of Drumheller at The Atlas Coal Mine, a National Historic Site.
The region around Drumheller is often referred to as the “Canadian Badlands” because of its stark, otherworldly terrain and dramatic rock spires. You can experience the incomparable landscape via horseback with Willow Creek Adventures or by canoe with Red Deer River Adventures. For an atmospheric Old West experience, chow down at the Last Chance Saloon. And don’t forget to take the kids to see the 86-foot-tall World’s Largest Dinosaur.
From Montreal to Saint-Sauveur, Quebec
Hugged by Quebec’s striking Laurentian Mountains, the welcoming village of Saint-Sauveur (an hours drive from Montreal) is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. In the winter, enjoy skiing atop Sommet Saint-Sauveur.
Come summer, Jardin de François, one of the province’s most acclaimed private gardens, opens to the public for tours. Grab your bike or your hiking boots to discover the P’tit Train du Nord park. The former railway line, which is said to be the longest bike path in Canada, meanders 144 miles through the mountains and surrounding valleys.
Why not plan a picnic for your excursion and grab your provisions at Lola 45, which specializes in wine and elevated takeout fare.