Explore these beautiful small towns in Canada on your next trek out of the city.
Whether you’re drawn to the treasured Great Lakes and nearby forests or craving a cross-country sojourn that takes you through mountains and prairies, Canada’s scenic charm stretches from coast to coast. Once you move beyond the cityscapes, there’s an abundance of historic little towns sprinkled across the provinces, each with its own local draws and rich Indigenous history.
Extending from Toronto in every direction—from Ontario to Nova Scotia, and even so far as British Columbia for those set on going the distance—reconnect with the wild beauty of the Great White North and flock to these six lesser-known townships with their own local beat.
1. Bloomfield, Prince Edward County, Ontario
2.5 hour drive from Toronto
This hip-meets-heritage wine region is just a couple hours eastward, and so is a crisp glass of sparkling at Hinterland Wine Company. A tiny farming village settled in the late 1700s, Bloomfield’s slow pace makes it sleepier than the other hubs in the county. Still, its main strip is vibrant—a testament to the talented resident farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers.
Check in at Angeline’s Inn, a converted Victorian with dreamy contemporary interiors. Stock up on gifts at Kokito, a bright-and-airy boutique in the town’s original post office. The cozy 100% virgin wool blankets made at the local mill are pure Canadiana and last a lifetime, or find a curated mix of jewels, ceramics, tinted glass, and cabin decor. Cycle at leisure or take a group tour with Bloomfield Bicycle Co., then swim and sun yourself as you admire the rolling dunes of beautiful Sandbanks. Farm-to-table cuisine at Bloomfield Public House is perfectly in tune with the methodical rhythm of rural life.
2. Gore Bay, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
6 hour drive from Toronto
Take the two-hour ferry from the northern peak of the Bruce Peninsula to reach the largest freshwater island in the world. Manitoulin, meaning “spirit island” in Ojibwe, is renowned for its pristine beauty and spiritual undercurrents.
With seven First Nations reserves, travelers have plenty of experiences to try, from a traditional Anishinabek tobacco or smudge ceremony at The Great Spirit Circle Trail to the annual ice fishing derby at Wiikwemkoong, the sole unceded territory on the island. With its crystal clear north shore waters, this population-900 town has a palpable harborfront ethos. Art exhibited at Perivale Gallery is a must-see before patio pints at Split Rail Brewing Co., and be sure to slip away to Linens & Lavender where you can wander through the wildflower gardens or shop for Canadian beeswax candles and vintage quilts.
3. Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island
57 hour drive from Toronto
An archipelago known as the Canadian Galápagos for its wild beauty, Haida Gwaii’s moss-coated rainforest, centuries-old totem poles, and misty coastal waters are just so ethereal. Sure, a drive out west requires substantially more commitment than the other routes on this list—but the rewards it yields are aplenty.
Past the prairies, the snow-capped mountains of Alberta make way for British Columbia’s enchanting seaside vistas; take a ferry 90 nautical miles off the North Coast. Honor Haida culture by visiting the island’s sacred ancestral sites and stay at Haida House, an intimate resort of cedar lodges and cabins peppered along the banks of the Tlell River.
For traditional Haida fare prepared with wild-harvested foods, join Chef Roberta Olson at Keenawaii’s Kitchen; sea asparagus and herring roe on kelp are cultural staples. With black-tailed Sitka deer wandering the main road constantly, connecting with wildlife comes naturally here. North Beach Surf Shop has it all; cold water surfers paddle out October to May, but be warned—it’s not for the faint of heart.
4. Paris, Ontario
1.5 hour drive from Toronto
Touted as one of Canada’s “prettiest little towns,” a walking tour of Paris’s mid-1800s architecture is like an expert study in cobblestone masonry. The historic Paris Wincey Mills Co., an 1889 mill that operated throughout the Depression, is now a bustling downtown market in a revamped building. At the market hall, browse Nith River Records for retro albums and visit The Paris Apothecary for handmade balms, salves, and scrubs with aromatic essential oils. Bird & Bee Vintage has a supernatural aura, with eclectic antiques from every era: an oh-so-sweet William Morris pocket mirror here, a mid-century Blue Mountain pottery there, and hand-poured bespoke candles made locally that will leave you spellbound.
After day-tripping down the Grand River in a 12-person canoe for Voyage of the Iroquois, find your calm with a hot stone massage at By The Bridge Wellness. The boutique Arlington Hotel keeps you close to the heart of town, with impressive culinary chops and 23 guest rooms designed with distinct muses in mind: Lewis Carroll, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jane Austen are just a few faves.
5. Penetanguishene, Ontario
2 hour drive from Toronto
On the crest of beautiful Georgian Bay, Penetanguishene’s name is Algonquin for “place of the white rolling sands.”Colloquially, it’s known as Penetang, —an endearing town just ten minutes north of Midland. Have lunch at Ciboulette et Cie, then join the nautical sect in touring historic ships down at Discovery Harbour. Stay buzzed with Grounded Coffee Co., where essentials like milk and eggs, locally-grown radishes, heirloom carrots, and rhubarb are on offer in the pantry tuck shop.
Historical re-enactments at Sainte Marie Among the Hurons and a replica Huron/Ouendat village with wigwams and longhouses will take you back in time at the Huronia Museum; explore the exhibit gallery and you may even spot an original Group of Seven. Tour the Wye Marsh wetlands and keep watch for trumpeter swans before self-soothing with yoga at Sugar Ridge and treating your taste buds at The Boathouse Eatery for dinner overlooking the bay.
6. Antigonish, Nova Scotia
17.5 hour drive from Toronto
A university town originally inhabited by the Algonquin Mi’Kmaq with strong Acadian roots and settled by Catholic Scots, Antigonish’s rocky shores and sweeping hills feel straight from antiquity. The Highland Games is the best way to soak in Scottish heritage; since 1861, this annual July event has entertained onlookers with bagpipes, tug-of-war, highland dancing, and heavy-lifting events.
Take the Antigonish Landing Trail, a 2.5 mile hike along the harbor, through a wildlife sanctuary with prime views of osprey and eagles. Local fare is served up at The Townhouse alongside sweet sparkling ciders and microbrews on tap. Studded with Mi’kmaq culture, try fresh-caught seafood at CleanWave Restaurant, tucked into the Wagmatcook Cultural Centre, where you’ll learn about hunting and fishing traditions. Last, the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation hosts an annual Powwow, among the oldest in the Maritimes, with drumming and dancing competitions. Seeing performers in full regalia is an art show in itself.