Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
19 Best Alberta Towns to visit
When you travel across Alberta’s varied landscapes of mountains, prairies, barren badlands and vast coniferous forests, make sure to stop at the small Alberta towns along the way.
Meeting locals is the best part of road-tripping and a way to find out firsthand what the province of Alberta is all about. You most likely will spend time in the major cities, but it’s the small towns and the country people you meet that make travel so special.
My selection of best Alberta towns is definitely not complete and towns will be added after my next upcoming Alberta road trip.
Unique Alberta towns
Facts about Alberta towns
Alberta is scattered with historic towns telling stories of times gone by, stories about the old wild west, and the oil boom.
Alberta country folks are tough, down-to-earth and freedom-loving people shaped by small-town living, tough winters and harsh climates.
19 Unique Alberta Towns you should visit
1. Calgary (Cowtown)
Of course, Calgary is a city, but with its nickname “Cowtown” it has to be included in the Alberta Towns list. Calgary is best known as the home of the Calgary Stampede, which takes place over ten days every July. It inspires you to indulge in a boots- and cowboy hat image that is still a way of life in the region.
Calgary is an energetic place with an art scene, excellent restaurants and coffee shops, beautiful parks and some lively neighbourhoods to check out. You can easily spend a few days here and you won’t get bored.
Bucket List Calgary:
- Visit Fort Calgary and trace Calgary’s history.
- Spend time at the Heritage Park Historical Village and learn about the Wild West.
- Check out some of the city’s top craft breweries.
- Load up on some fresh food at one of Calgary’s Farmer’s Markets.
- Have lunch at a rotating restaurant at the top of Calgary Tower.
- Spend an evening in historic Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood and home to an eclectic mix of boutiques, pubs, live music and fine dining.
- Don’t miss the famous Calgary Stampede in July if you’re in the area.
- Book a 3-hour tour through Calgary and gain an understanding of the city. Hear the interesting stories that helped shape Calgary into the city it is today.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Longview, located in the middle of cattle country. I ended up staying for a couple of nights and used it as a base to explore the surrounding Alberta towns. Longview is nestled in the foothills, near the Highwood River, along the Cowboy Trail. It’s known for the annual Longstock Music and Arts Festival and its rodeo various rodeo events.
The Twin Cities Hotel is a good place to spend an evening. If you’re lucky there will be live music and an axe-throwing competition while you’re there. This cowboy town of around 320 residents has lots to offer, as well as good country food and an excellent campground.
From Longview, you can start your adventure road trip to the west into Kananaskis country or south to the Bar U Historical Ranch and Chain Lakes.
- Stop in at the famous Longview Jerky Shop and pick up nutritious snacks for the road.
- Spend an evening at the historic Twin Creek Hotel and Saloon.
- Visit the Longstock Music and Arts Festival in August.
Lundbreck owes its economic origins to both the ranching & coal mining industries and later became a commercial centre for area ranchers & coal mines. The Lundbreck Trading Co. was established as a general store in the early 1900s.
Park your car and stroll around the old prairie town. Two blocks east of the hotel on Breckenridge Avenue, the main street, you come across Lundbreck’s one-block town centre dominated by a couple of elderly two-storey buildings proudly proclaiming themselves to be “Oldest in the West”. After that, you’ve pretty much seen Lundbreck. It’s a peaceful place There is no local museum or anything else.
Still, I love places like Lunbreck and I’m glad I stopped.
From Lundbreck head out to Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation area to watch the rushing Crowsnest River plunge into a deep pool in the canyon below. Watch the powerful Lundbreck Falls from the observation platform and then walk down into the limestone gorge for a closer look.
Spend a night at the scenic campground at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area offering unserviced, powered and walk-in tenting sites along the Crowsnest River.
Bucket List Lundbreck:
- Park your car and stroll around the small community of Lundbreck,
- Head out to Lundbreck Falls located just a few minutes down the road.
- Camp at Lundbreck Falls Recreation site for a night.
4. Belleview – Crowsnest Pass
Crowsnest Pass, or “The Pass” as the locals call it, is a collective of five historic mining towns — Bellevue, Hillcrest, Frank, Blairmore, and Coleman that make up the Crowsnest municipality, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Probably the best known is the community of Frank for the Frank Slide disaster of 1903, Canada’s deadliest rockslide to date. Read more: Explore Southern Alberta
This Crowsnest mining town of Bellevue was built in 1905 on the flat land above the Bellevue mine. Bellevue is full of quaint miners’ homes from the last century. Key heritage buildings are identified on the self-guided Heritage Driving Tour and Historical Walking Tour. The Bellevue Underground Mine Tour gives an ‘in-depth’ experience of historic coal mining in Crowsnest Pass.
From town, you get a great view of Frank Slide.
Just across the highway is Hillcrest, where another mining disaster took place in 1914. The death of 189 men made this the worst mining tragedy in Canadian history.
- Take the underground tour and learn about the disastrous explosion in 1910 that took the lives of 31 miners.
- Make sure to visit Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site on your way east, where the former coal processing plant operated between 1907 and 1915.
5. Frank – Crowsnest Pass
The Frank Slide of 1903 was Canada’s deadliest rock slide in history. The tragedy, when Turtle Mountain collapsed onto the mining town of Frank, is displayed at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. Many residents were killed when over 82 million tonnes of limestone came down the mountain, partially burying the town below. Many bodies were never recovered below the massive amount of rock.
The Interpretive Centre uses engaging storytelling techniques to set the scene and educate visitors, and also covers the mining history of the region, even talking a bit about Crowsnest Pass.
Bucket List Frank:
- Visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre to learn about this compelling story.
- When visiting Frank, take a self-guided Historical Walking Tour.
6. Blairmore – Crowsnest Pass
Blairmore’s heritage houses along Main Street remind of the town’s early days. Originally a Canadian Pacific Railway stop Blairmore served as an industry focal point for the region’s growing coal mining and lumber industries.
Blairmore was also home to an illegally operating alcohol import business which brought in alcohol from British Columbia during Alberta’s short-lived Prohibition phase.
Today, Blairmore is home to more than 2,000 people and has various services, shops and coffee shops in town.
Bucket List Blairmore:
- Enjoy the self-guided Historical Walking Tour
- Many buildings are identified on the Heritage Driving Route map.
7. Coleman – Crowsnest Pass
In 2002, Coleman’s mine site, commercial area, and streets lined with miner’s cottages has been designated a National Historic Site by Parks Canada. Its many historic buildings, some dating back to 1904, reflect the boom-and-bust nature of the coal industry. While walking down its historic streets, you can read the many interpretive signs and building plaques, see the ruins of its coal plant and coke ovens, and visit a regional museum. Many of these sites are identified on the Heritage Driving Tour map.
Bucket List Coleman:
- Pick up the Coleman National Historic Site booklet, available at the Crowsnest Museum in Coleman.
- Discover this historic community on a self-guided walking or driving tour.
- The museum can also provide a guided tour of Coleman by advance arrangement
Settled in the late 1800s, Nanton is the southern gateway to the foothills. With the surrounding prairies to the east and picturesque rolling foothills to the west, Nanton is an interesting little town where history is still alive.
Home to museums, famous rodeos, antiques and boutiques, great dining, and a sweet candy shop, Nanton’s interesting shops and artists make this destination a great place to come to. Stop here for a while and find out what this authentic Alberta town has to offer.
The Bomber Command Museum of Canada is home to one of the only Lancaster bombers in the world with a working engine which makes this place special. At the museum you get to enjoy virtual reality experiences, flight simulators to make you fly a Lancaster bomber plane, airplane tours, engine runs, and so much more.
Bucket List Nanton:
- Walk along historic Main Street and check out antique and art stores.
- Take a tour through the Bomber Command Museum.
- Check out Nanton Nite Rodeo on a Friday night, one of Canada’s longest running night rodeos.
- Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre
- While in Town stop by the Candy store, family owned and operated since 2004.
9. Fort Macleod
This beautifully restored boomtown, located in Southern Alberta about an hour east of the Canadian Rockies is home to the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) museum and 100-year-old theatre, still in use. Take a guided tour of the historic main street, and learn about the rich history of the NWMP and First Nations.
In 1982 a government grant assisted Fort Macleod in restoring the original buildings of the 1910-1920s. An amazing collection of architecture resulted, which is still on display today. Many films have been shot using MacLeod main street as the background. Walking tour maps explain the original uses of the buildings.
Fort Macleod Highlights:
- Visit the Fort Museum and catch the famous Musical Ride.
- Take a walking tour along Historic Main Street.
- Stop at the Empress Theatre and look for Eddy, the resident ghost.
10. Black Diamond
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Canadian Rockies just 30 minutes from Calgary is the quaint little town of Black Diamond. Black Diamonds takes its name from coal discovered in the area in the late 1800s. The original mine site is still visible to the west of the highway approaching the Black Diamond bridge.
Ranchers settled in the area in the 1880s and ranching and farming remain the primary industry in Black Diamond.
The period from 1914 to 1947 was called the Boomtown Era in Black Diamond and Turner Valley as the oilfields formed the heart of Alberta’s growing oil industry. Many old buildings remain from this era and have partly been restored to preserve both their history and functionality.
Black Diamond is part of the Cowboy Trail along Highway 22.
Bucket List Black Diamond:
- Check out the boomtown-style business fronts and welcoming banners while taking a Historic Walking Tour around town.
- Visit the Bluerock Gallery and shop to experience high-quality fine art and craft.
- To cool off during the heat of summer, float down the Sheep River.
- Stop in at Black Diamond Bar and Hotel if you are looking for a watering hole or good food.
- Visit Black Diamon Elk Ranch for locally raised elk products.
- Don’t miss live music and award-winning brews at Hard Knox Brewery.
11. Turner Valley
Turner Valley, known as the birthplace of Alberta’s petroleum industry, offers a variety of exciting adventures and outdoor activities, as well as specialty shopping, great dining and cultural events. During the second world World War, the Turner Valley oilfield produced more than 95 % of all the oil in Canada. A drive along Cowboy Trail through the Turner Valley oilfield still reveals hints of the oil booms in the past.
Turner Valley is known for some of the world’s top spirits and beer products. Brauerei Fahr continues to win awards for its innovative and premium products. Its patio is open for those willing to sample.
The town is a gateway to Kananaskis and is known to inspire artists from around the world to paint the rolling foothills, bubbling streams and majestic mountains.
Bucket List Turner Valley:
- Check out the extensive hiking and biking trails. Download AllTrails app for maps.
- Visit the Eau Claire Distillery.
- Stop in at the microbrewery Brauerei Fahr patio on Kennedy Drive.
- Book a horseback ride at a local outfitter.
The majestic peaks of the Three Sisters stand over the town of Canmore, an outdoor adventure hub only minutes from Banff National Park. A stroll down busy Main Street takes you past art galleries, unique stores and a fine dining scene. Canmore hosts many festivals throughout the year.
Download the Canmore Downtown Sightseeing Smartphone Audio Walking Tour to find all the attractions. Visit as many sights and attractions as you like and at your own pace.
Read more: Alberta Rocky Mountains
Bucket List Canmore:
- Stroll Down 8th Street busy Main Street takes you past art galleries, unique stores and a fine dining scene.
- Walk the 3.9 km Policeman’s Creek Trail, one of the best walking trails in Canmore.
- Ski or Bike at Nordic Center, Canada’s first class cross country and mountain biking center.
- Hike to Grassi Lakes and get rewarded with fantastic views out over the lakes with Canmore off in the distance.
- Step back in time and visit the North West Mounted Police Barracks.
- Explore the Canmore museum
- Go Underground at the Rat’s Nest Cave – this is cave exploring at its best. You’ll definitely get a bit dirty, but by the end of the day, you may be hooked by the experience and craving for more.
- Go to Get Your Guide for the best activity tours in Canmore Alberta.
13. Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek is a fantastic place to visit, located 45 km from downtown Calgary along the Cowboy Trail, with unique stores and a special vibe. The rich history of the early settlers who first called the area home in the 1880s is still on display all over town. Oel was discovered in the area around 1913 and later gas was found.
The area later became popular as a weekend and retirement destination. In 1933, North America’s first youth hostel was established in Bragg Creek, first as a simple tent but soon a permanent structure was built. Unfortunately, after the hostel burned down it was never rebuilt. If you’re looking for a wilderness hostel nearby, try HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel.
Just across the river from Bragg Creek Shopping Centre lies the trailhead of the Great Canadian Trail, which connects to a trail system that spans the entire country of Canada.
Read more: Explore Southern Alberta
Bucket list Bragg Creek:
- Stop in at Bragg Creek Trading Post, constructed in 1927.
- Check out the large collection of trails; and parks for biking and hiking.
- Cool off at Elbow Falls located west of Bragg Creek, a small waterfall along the Elbow River and venture on a hike. Download Maps and trail information at AllTrails
The small town of Drumheller is set in mids the dramatic badlands and is part of the famous Dinosaur Trail. Its Jurassic heritage shows at every street corner with its stegosauruses on display.
The first stop is Drumheller’s Visitor Centre. You can’t miss it. It’s the base of the world’s largest dinosaur. Climb up inside the T-Rex for fantastic views of the surrounding badlands through its large jaws and shoot some superb pictures to your dino photo collection.
Read more: Explore Southern Alberta
Bucket List Drumheller:
- Spend time at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world’s finest dinosaur museums, located nearby.
- Climb up inside the T-Rex for a fantastic view.
- Drive The Dinosaur Trail from Drumheller, a beautiful loop with great views.
Banff is a resort town located within Banff National park with souvenir shops, nightclubs and fancy restaurants and luxurious château-style hotels. This is not exactly what nature lovers and outdoor seekers would be looking for.
At least this was my first impression when I first arrived in town. But, give it some time and you will quickly discover that Banff is not an ordinary town. It is the service centre for the park that surrounds it. But you only have to wander five minutes in either direction and you will be in wild country where you will encounter Canada’s wildlife.
Read more: Alberta Rocky Mountains
No list of Alberta small towns is complete without including the popular town of Jasper. Jasper is situated in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and is the gateway to some of the most incredible outdoor attractions in Canada.
The world-famous town caters to all types of travellers. In summer venture on a hiking tour into the mountains up to pristine glacial lakes and watch Canadian wildlife in the wild. In winter, bring your skis or snowboard and head out to some of the best slopes Canada has to offer.
There is nothing quite like a stay in Jasper, but make sure you book in advance. Accommodation in town is limited and fills up pretty fast.
Read more: Alberta Rocky Mountains
17. Historic Nordegg
Nordegg is located in the North Saskatchewan River Valley at the foothills of the beautiful Canadian Rockies, along the David Thompson Highway about 3 hours from Jasper.
Nordegg began as a coal mining operation nearly 110 years ago. It’s now the Brazeau Collieries Mine National Heritage Site that offers guided tours of the industrial coal mine site during the summer months. Significant restoration has been completed at the Nordegg mine site to keep the historic building in place. It is Canada’s largest industrial heritage site and has stood abandoned since the mid-1950s.
The plan is to develop Nordegg into Alberta’s next mountain resort community. Stop in at the popular Miners Coffee Shop located near Nordegg’s gas station. Have a look at the restored church and the restored original bank building. Read more: Canadian Rocky Mountains
Bucket List Historic Nordegg:
- Don’t miss the amazing view from the impressive 220-metre Taunton Bridge west of Saunders.
- Take a tour of the Brazeau Collieries Mine if available.
- Check on the Rail Trail, a project in process.
Hinton is known as the Gateway to the Rocky Mountains and is located just 15 minutes from the northern entrance to Jasper National Park. That makes it an excellent base for alpine adventures.
21 km northeast of Hinton is William A. Switzer Provincial Park a wilderness pure. There is a Visitor Information Centre operating during the summer months where you can pick up information about the park. Hike to the Athabasca Lookout for a stunning view over the mountains or rent a canoe and paddle the chain of five small lakes within the park.
Watch out for wildlife. The park is home to wolves, bears, cougars, moose, deer and elk. Read more: Alberta Rocky Mountains
- Explore the Beaver Boardwalk, one of Canada’s longest freshwater boardwalks and watch beavers at work. Download the AllTrail app for maps and directions.
- Spend time at the world-class facility at the Hinton Nordic Centre for some outdoor sports.
- Visit William A. Switzer Provincial Park,, an undisturbed wildland where adventure awaits.
19. Grand Cache
Grande Cache was originally on the fur trade route of the early 1800s. Today, it’s on the tourist trail and has lots to offer. It’s a bit out of the way, situated on the famous Alberta Highway 40 approximately 145 kilometres northwest of Hinton and 435 kilometres west of Edmonton.
Staying in Grande Cache will give you access to many special places including the Sulphur Gates Provincial Recreation Area, Grande Cache Lakes Beach, the Crack of Doom (a huge crack in a rock left over from the last ice age), and a great Historical Drive Tour.
Pick up a brochure and directions for a Historical Drive Tour you don’t want to miss. It starts at the Tourist Information Center and it takes you along the nine stops on this historic and natural sites route.
Grand Cache region is an excellent place for outdoor fun and hiking with many trails to choose from. It is also the jump-off point for Wilmore Wilderness Park. Download the AllTrail app for maps and directions.
Read more: Alberta Rocky Mountains
Bucket List Grande Cache:
- Stop in at the Visitor Centre for a brochure and head on the Historical Drive Tour.
- Visit Grande Cache Lake recreation area just 5 km out of town for a picnic on the beach.
- Sulphur Gates Provincial Recreation Area,12 km southwest of Grande Cache is another place that calls for wilderness adventures and offers camping.
- Venture out to Twin Falls, a 3 km round trip.
- Head out to Crack of Coom, the unique split rock which is a huge erratic leftover from the glacial period.
- Hike to Muskeg Falls, a fairly short walk to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region.
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