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Getting away from the crowds and high prices of big cities is a vacation goal for many of us. But where to find a smaller town that’s fun and fascinating, instead of sleepy and boring? Head to Canada, where small and mid-size towns abound and where the strong US dollar right now makes a run for the border a smart move for your getaway budget. Here are the coolest towns in each province and territory in Canada:

Related: 5 essential Quebec City photos you can’t leave without

Hoodoos in the Badlands in Drumheller

Hoodoos in the Badlands in Drumheller

Drumheller: Alberta

If you love dinosaurs (and who doesn’t?), this town and surrounding countryside will make you very happy. Visit the world-renowned Royall Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, drive the 30-mileDinosaur Trail through the Red Deer Valley and surrounding Badlands and visit Dinosaur National Park. This United Nations World Heritage Site contains some of the world’s richest fossil beds, dating as far back as 75 million years. Self-guided tours loop through different habitats and displays. The park is also a field station of the Royall Tyrell.

Tofino & Ucluelet: British Columbia

These adjoining towns on the west coast of Vancouver Island offer a 22-mile stretch of surf that makes them a world center for the sport. And it’s easy to learn here, thanks to the long, shallow tides (but beware the chilly waters). Both towns also offer a lively art gallery and restaurant scene featuring local seafood, produce and wines. Visit the Pacific Rim National Park for hiking and biking trails, and the First Nations village of Meares.

Manitoba, Churchill, Canada, polar bears, nature, travel

Polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill: Manitoba

This is the polar bear capital of the world, on the edge of Hudson’s Bay, where you can see them pretty much year-round, lolling about on the rocks in warm weather and hunting for food on the ice between October and February. Sightseeing vehicles are specially equipped for the extreme cold and summer’s soggy tundra and turn into mobile hotels in winter for multi-day excursions onto the icepack (where you might also see the Northern Lights). There’s also beluga whale watching, including via kayak. The only way to get here is by train or plane, usually from Winnipeg, since roads stop just outside town.

Reversing Rapids

Reversing Rapids | Photo courtesy of Tourism New Brunswick, Canada

Saint John: New Brunswick

There’s a walkable downtown, with historic buildings and museums, and a lively theater scene. But the main reason many people visit Saint John is for the Bay of Fundy and its famous Reversing Rapids. The collision of the Saint John River with the bay creates huge whirlpools and rapids. Even though tour boats outfit visitors with waterproof jackets and pants, there’s no way to keep the icy water from splashing down your neck or up your sleeves. Just do it. You can dry off after you finish laughing.

Gander: Newfoundland and Labrador

This was a major strategic base for both Canadian and American forces in WWII, for its strategic location and favorable weather. That makes Gander an ideal base for tourism, too. Visit the North Atlantic Aviation Museum where you can climb into WWII planes, take a boat cruise to tour icebergs or view theNorthern Lights.

Cape Breton: Nova Scotia

This coastal Nova Scotia island includes a collection of villages with strong ties to their Irish, Scottish and Acadian heritages, including world-class fiddling and the square dancing and jigs it inspires. There are competitions and festivals throughout the year in towns with names like Dundee, Inverness and Chimney Corner. The western side of the island is famous for its sandy beaches along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, whale-watching cruises, fishing and hiking. Two important spots for anybody who has ever communicated are the Marconi National Historic Site in Glace Bay, where Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first translatlantic Morse code signal, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, where Bell spent years tinkering on what became the telephone.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island

Cavendish: Prince Edward Island

Writer Lucy Maud Montgomery set her beloved “Anne of Green Gables” here, and her home is a popular stop for fans, including as a wedding site. There also are several lighthouses nearby to visit, plus seal watching. Nearly every restaurant serves world famous PEI mussels in an infinite variety, including smoked, in seafood stews and as an ingredient in pasta sauces. Get here from the mainland in 15 minutes via the Confederation Bridge or a scenic and leisurely 90 minutes aboard the Northumberland Ferry.

Stratford: Ontario

Like its British namesake, Canada’s Stratford is famous for its annual Shakespeare festival, which attracts top stage and screen stars. There’s also a strong culinary scene, with food fests that begin with asparagus in the spring and end with garlic in the fall, and craft wine and beer fests in between. Stratford is just 90 minutes from Toronto, and there are daily bus trip excursions for those who prefer to stay in a big town instead of a small one.

Baie St. Paul: Quebec

Less than two hours from Quebec City, this is a popular weekend getaway destination for the Province’s residents for its lively art, theater and culinary scene. There’s also a tradition of circus arts, which is not surprising when you know that four local street performers here went on to create Cirque du Soleil. Take a train between Quebec City and Baie St. Paul, and enjoy views of the St. Lawrence River for most of the way.

Saskatchewan river

Saskatchewan River

Prince Albert: Saskatchewan

The self-proclaimed “Gateway to the North” was once the center of Canada’s lumber industry. These days, it’s the gateway to more than 1,000 lakes for fishing, a dozen golf courses, wineries and a vast national park of more than one million acres. There’s bison and wolf watching in Prince Albert National Park, along with hiking, camping and canoeing. The park is 50 miles north of town. South of town, visit the Mounted Police Museum in Duck Lake.

Yellowknife: Northwest Territory

The largest city in this huge, sparsely populated territory is also the transportation hub for anything within 750 miles. Everything north of here is reachable only by small bush planes, snowmobile ordogsled. If fishing is your thing,this is your dream destination, with remote lodges dotting bays and rivers. For golfing and hiking under the midnight sun in summer or spectacular Northern Lights and dogsledding in winter, just hang around town.

Cape Dorset: Nunavut

This is the largest town in this vast, rugged, isolated area near the top of the world, inhabited almost entirely by Inuit. This is also the world capital of Inuit art, with more carvers, weavers and print makers per capita than anywhere in the world. No roads or rail lines connect the 25 villages of Nunavut, so be prepared to travel by bush plane, snowmobile or dogsled. Spring here is like winter elsewhere, with snow and below freezing temperatures ideal for cross country skiing, wildlife viewing and ice flow tours. July and August is close to 24 hours of daylight to enjoy kayaking with belugas and Arctic cruising.

Main street of Dawson

Main street of Dawson | Flickr CC: Bo Mertz

Dawson: Yukon Territory

This town was the epicenter of the great Klondike Gold Rush rush at the turn of the century, and retains the look of the 1890s with carefully restored buildings and a code requiring new ones look like old ones. Visit the Bonanza Creek mining site, which produced several millions of dollars in gold back when it was $16 an ounce. Try your luck at gold panning, and at Diamondtooth Gerties Gambling Hall,where old-fashioned can-can dancers vie for your attention. The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre tells the history and culture of the first people of the Klondike. Dawson, a.k.a. Dawson City, is on the western edge of the territory, close to the Alaskan border.

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is www.ecoxplorer.com
Evelyn Kanter

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