Are you considering a move to BC but looking for a peaceful location away from the big cities? If so, you may be interested in our pick of the 19 best small towns in BC to live in.
We first moved to Canada from the UK in 2006 and started our life here in Alberta. In 2010 we moved to Penticton in BC, and for the next nine years, our time was split between these two provinces.
Over the years, we have travelled extensively in BC for both work and family reasons, and we write from personal experience.
19 Best Small Towns In BC
So which towns did we choose, and how did we choose them? We have tried to choose attractive towns (or small cities) in great locations. They are large enough to provide a good community and range of amenities but still have a small-town feel.
No town is perfect, so we have also tried to point out the pros and cons of each town. We have written individual articles on each of these towns/cities, and these can be found on this website.
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Reasons To Live In BC
Before choosing your ideal hometown, you need to know whether British Columbia is the province for you. BC offers excellent education, affordable healthcare and safe communities, but this is typical of Canada. So, what sets BC apart from the rest of the country?
Most of Canada experiences cold, harsh winters with pleasant, moderately hot summers. However, BC’s coastal location and mountain ranges mean its climate isn’t typical of Canada.
You will find significant variations in the climate even within the province. Overall the BC weather is milder and wetter than the rest of Canada.
The south coast has the mildest winters in Canada and warm, pleasant summers. On the downside, the levels of rainfall here are some of the highest in the country. Meanwhile, the southern interior has very short winters with long, dry, very hot summers.
BC is home to a vast range of stunning natural scenery. This isn’t uncommon in Canada, but in BC, you will find snow-capped mountains, beautiful lakes, lush forests as well as a spectacular coastline with sandy beaches and dramatic waves.
This province is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Whistler is home to a world-class ski resort, Tofino offers surfing and other water sports, and the whole province is a dream for cycling and for hikers.
Cost of Living
On the downside, BC is one of the more expensive provinces in Canada. House prices in BC are around 50% higher than Canadian averages, although real estate in rural areas is generally cheaper.
Taxes are also higher in BC than in many provinces. For example, Sales tax is 12% on most goods (5% GST plus 7% PST) compared to 5% in provinces such as Alberta, and the top income tax rate is relatively high.
Campbell River is one of the largest communities on our list of the best small towns in BC. It is a great choice for anyone that enjoys the outdoor life, especially for those that like to fish. The city is known as the “salmon capital of the world”.
Campbell River is situated around halfway along the east coast of Vancouver Island, at the south end of the Discovery Passage. The city is surrounded by unspoiled scenery and abundant wildlife; it is popular for hiking, fishing, whale-watching and boating and has a thriving tourism industry.
The closest international airport accessible by road is Victoria International Airport, around a 3-hour drive from the city. However, Campbell River does have its own small airport. Ferries from Nanaimo and Victoria can also be used to access the mainland.
The weather here is typical of the east coast of Vancouver Island. Summers are warm, winters are mild, and levels of rainfall are relatively high.
The educational and healthcare facilities here are excellent. Campbell River has 14 public schools covering kindergarten to grade 12, and dual-track French immersion programs are offered.
Courtenay is a picturesque coastal community. It is one of three towns on this coastline to make our list of the best small towns in BC. It is a tourist destination and an area of great natural beauty with stunning beaches, rivers, and lakes.
You can find Courtenay on the south side of the Courtenay River around halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island. The city is around a 2-hour 45-minute drive north of Victoria and Victoria International Airport.
However, Courtney also has its own small local airport, which offers flights to Vancouver. The mainland can also be accessed by ferry from Nanaimo or Victoria.
The economic base of this small city is fairly diverse, which provides a range of job opportunities. Local industries include the extraction of natural resources, agriculture, and a large service industry serving both residents of the valley and visitors.
Many people move to Vancouver Island for moderate weather. Summers are warm, and winters are mild with very little snow, but levels of rainfall are relatively high.
The educational and healthcare facilities here are excellent. Courtenay has 11 public schools covering kindergarten to grade 12, and dual-track French immersion programs are offered. The city also has its own hospital.
Fernie is a great choice for outdoor enthusiasts and one of several ski communities to make our list of the best small towns in BC. This is a beautiful mountain town located in the East Kootenay region of southeastern BC.
The closest sizeable city to Fernie is Cranbrook which lies to the west of Fernie, around an hour away. Calgary Airport is around a 3-hour drive to the northeast (via the Crowsnest Pass), and it will take around 11 hours to reach Vancouver on the west coast.
Calgary International Airport is the closest major airport to Fernie, but the Canadian Rockies International Airport is only an hour’s drive away and offers regular flights to Calgary and Vancouver.
The weather in Fernie is fairly typical of Canada, with cold winters and pleasantly warm summers. The climate is relatively wet for Canada. However, this provides abundant snowfall for the ski resort.
Some may find Fernie a little isolated, but the town does have surprisingly good facilities considering its size.
The town has its own hospital offering inpatient and outpatient care, and its elementary and secondary schools both offer French immersion programs. The town of Fernie also has very low crime rates.
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Golden is an excellent location for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the smaller places to make our best small towns in BC. Tourism is an important part of its economy, and it is home to a large ski resort just 6km west of the town. It is also a great area for hiking and biking.
This resort town lies in southeastern BC on the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Vancouver. The town is around 1000 km east of Vancouver and 270 km west of Calgary, Alberta. It lies in the spectacular Rocky Mountains, surrounded by six beautiful national parks.
Golden’s position in the mountains means it has colder winters than much of southern BC but less rainfall than the west coast. It has a dry climate, and almost half of its annual precipitation falls as snow.
Some other benefits are that it is a very safe place to live, with crime rates that are extremely low, even by Canadian standards. The town also has its own hospital, and its school offer dual-track French immersion programs.
On the downside, property prices in Golden are high for such a small community due to tourism pushing prices up in recent years.
Grand Forks is a small riverside town in south-central BC and one of the southernmost of our best small towns in BC. This is a beautiful, peaceful location with tree-lined streets and a historic town centre. A dry mild climate, low property costs and low crime rates all add up to a great quality of life.
You will find Grand Forks in a wide valley very close to the US border. Some may find it a little isolated as the closest major centre (and the closest international airport) is Kelowna, a 3-hour drive away.
The weather in Grand Forks is one of its attractions. It has a mild, dry and sunny climate, with low levels of rain and snow. This means that outdoor activities such as hiking and biking can be enjoyed for much of the year. The town’s proximity to Christina Lake, with its warm waters, is also a draw to the town.
This lively resort town, also known as Invermere on the Lake, is one of the smallest of our recommended best small towns in BC. It can be found in southeastern BC on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, around 850 km east of Vancouver and 280 km west of Calgary in Alberta.
Invermere sits on Windermere Lake, whose warm waters mean that boating and water sports draw many visitors in the summer. Hiking, biking, and skiing are also popular in the area, and Invermere is a major golf centre with a long season.
Summers are pleasantly warm without being too humid, while winters are moderately cold. The lake freezes over to give more than 30km of ski, skate and walking trails in the winter months.
Property prices are reasonable in Invermere, considering it is a tourist destination, with property prices around two-thirds of the average for BC. Another benefit is that Invermere is an extremely safe place to live, with crime rates that are low even by Canadian standards.
Despite its small size Invermere has three elementary schools, two secondary schools and its own hospital with inpatient and outpatient facilities.
In 2022 CBC readers voted Kimberley as Best Small Town in BC, and it’s not hard to see why. This peaceful community lies just minutes from a ski resort in a beautiful mountain location. Property prices are low, crime rates are among the lowest in the country, and the climate is dry and sunny.
Kimberley lies in southeastern BC in the Purcell Mountains. Its closest city is Cranbrook (around a 20-minute drive), and Calgary International Airport is the closest major airport (a 4.5-hour drive). However, a major bonus is a small regional airport around 20 minutes away, which offers regular flights to Calgary and Vancouver.
The weather in Kimberley is typical of Canada, with cold winters and pleasantly warm summers. However, the climate is very dry and around one-third of the precipitation falls as snow.
Kimberley is one of the least expensive of our best small towns in BC due to low real estate prices. The average property price of a home here is less than half the average for BC. An additional benefit is that Kimberley is one of the safest communities in Canada, with exceptionally low crime rates.
Nelson is a very attractive lakeside community with a historic downtown, a thriving art community and a slightly hippie feel. This small city is surrounded by lakes, rivers and mountains and is a popular tourist destination.
Nelson can be found in south-central BC, just an hour’s drive from the US border. It will take you around 4 hours to drive to Kelowna (the closest international airport) and 8 hours to reach Vancouver.
Nelson is less expensive than many of the towns we discuss; the cost of a home here is 15-20% lower than the provincial average. Other benefits are a diverse economy, which is based on industries such as forestry, mining and tourism, and the city is also a regional business and shopping centre.
As a regional centre, Nelson has a hospital offering inpatient and outpatient facilities, and it also has very good schools. Dual-track French immersion programs are available, and advanced placement (AP) courses (AP courses allow students to earn post-secondary credits while still in high school).
Osoyoos is a border community in south-central BC and one of the southernmost of our best small towns in BC. This small town nestles on the shores of Osoyoos Lake, surrounded by orchards and vineyards. Osoyoos is a resort destination thanks to its hot summers and spectacular location, and its mild winters also attract snowbirds.
Some may find Oosyoos a little isolated. It lies directly east of Vancouver, around a 4.5-hour drive away, and Kelowna has the closest international airport, around 2 hours north of the town. The closest reasonable-sized shopping community is around 50 minutes away at Penticton.
The economy of the town is based on tourism and also fruit and wine production. The size of the town means that job opportunities are limited, but if you aren’t reliant on finding a job within the town, it could be a great option.
Despite its size, Osoyoos does have an elementary school, a secondary school, and a college offering mainly career-oriented programs. However, dual-track French immersion programs aren’t available in the town.
Parksville is one of three communities on this list of best small towns in BC, which lie on the sheltered east coast of Vancouver Island. This is a small, attractive coastal city known for its beautiful, long sandy beaches.
Parksville can be found around 150 km north of Victoria; it will take around 2 hours to drive to the island’s capital and a similar time to reach its international airport.
However, Qualicum Beach Airport is just a 10-minute drive north of Parkville and offers flights to Vancouver. Vancouver can also be reached by ferry from either Nanaimo or Victoria.
This city is known as a retiree destination, and the average age of its population is higher than most towns. It also has a large British community, with roughly 1 in 5 of its residents being born in the United Kingdom.
The climate in Parkville is typical of Vancouver Island, with warm summers and mild winters with an average January low of 0°C. Unlike most of Canada, the city sees very little snow.
The choice of schools is limited to just two elementary schools and one secondary school, but dual-track French immersion programs are offered.
Penticton is the largest community on our list. It is a beautiful place to live, and further expansion of the city is limited by rural zoning of the surrounding countryside and its lakes.
This community was our home for many years. It lies sandwiched between two stunning lakes, summers are hot and dry, and it is surrounded by orchards, vineyards, wineries and mountains. Penticton also has a large farmers market every Saturday from May to October.
You will find Penticton in the southern interior of BC in the Okanagan Valley. The closest international airport is just over an hour away at Kelowna, and the city is around a 5-hour drive from Vancouver.
Other benefits of Penticton are a large regional hospital, and we found the schools to be excellent with dual-track French immersion programs offered, as well as advanced placement courses.
A major downside of Penticton for us was the gloomy winters. The city has very little precipitation, but from November to February, low-lying cloud settles in the valley. The dry, hot summers also mean smoke from forest fires in the surrounding areas creates smoky conditions some years.
Quesnel is an attractive riverside community and the northernmost of our recommended best small towns in BC. It is known for its beautiful location and is surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers. It is a popular destination for hunting, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling.
The small city of Quesnel is located in central British Columbia. It lies around 400km north of Kamloops on Highway 97, which is the main route to northern BC and the Yukon. The closest sizeable city is Prince George (population approx 100,000) which is around 120km to the north.
Quesnel lies further north than many BC communities and has a colder climate as a result. However, the climate is dry with a high number of sunshine hours.
Another benefit is that Quesnel is a relatively cheap place to live, mainly due to low property prices, which are less than half of the provincial average.
A downside of Quesnel is that crime rates in the municipal area are significantly higher than average for British Columbia. However, this should be taken in the context of low overall crime rates in Canada.
Revelstoke is technically a city, but with just over 8000 people, it has a small-town feel. The community is surrounded by mountains, fast-flowing rivers, and a winter wonderland in the colder months.
Revelstoke has always attracted outdoor enthusiasts, but it has become more popular since a large ski resort opened in 2007. Overall the impact of the resort has been positive, and the community is thriving, although property prices have increased as a result.
You will find Revelstoke in southeastern BC on the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Vancouver. It is around 641 kilometres east of Vancouver and 415 kilometres west of Calgary, Alberta.
The city sits on the banks of the impressive Columbia River, just south of the Revelstoke Dam. Summers are pleasantly warm, and winters are relatively cold. Its climate is quite wet, but this means heavy snowfall in the winter and great skiing conditions.
Another benefit of Revelstoke is that it has very low crime rates, even by Canadian standards. It also has its own hospital, a post-secondary college, a secondary school and several elementary schools.
Rossland is one of the smaller communities on our best small towns in the BC list. It lies high in the Monashee Mountains in southern BC, very close to the US border. It will take you around 7.5 hours to drive to Vancouver (which is directly west) from here and almost the same time to get to Calgary in Alberta.
(Under Creative Commons License: Murray Foubister)
Rossland is more isolated than many of our choices for the best small towns in BC. The closest international airport is at Kelowna, around 300km northwest of Rossland, a drive of almost 4 hours.
However, the town has a beautiful location, just a 5-minute drive from Red Mountain Ski Resort. The area is also excellent for mountain biking, hiking and trail running in the summer.
The growth of the area as a ski destination has strengthened the local economy in recent years, although a downside is that property prices have increased. Despite this, the average cost of a home here is still only 85% of the average for British Columbia.
Rossland’s small size means that residents must travel the short distance to neighbouring Trail for some facilities. The closest hospital is in Trail, and many students travel here for secondary school.
Salmon Arm is technically a city, but with a population of just 20,000, this lakeside community has a small-town feel. The community has a rural location which is green and lush in the summer and great for cross-country skiing in the winter.
Salmon Arm lies in the Southern Interior of BC, in an area of beautiful lakes and mountains. The city can be found 450km northeast of Vancouver, around a 5-hour drive.
The weather in Salmon Arm is more temperate than in many areas of Canada. Winter temperatures are quite mild, and precipitation levels are relatively low.
A major benefit of Salmon Arm is that, despite being a popular tourist destination, property prices have remained at reasonable levels, at around two-thirds of the provincial average.
Squamish has a beautiful location which combines mountains and a coastal location. This community is an excellent choice for anyone that enjoys outdoor life; hiking and biking trails weave in and around the town, and the area is popular with rock climbers, kayakers, and kite and windsurfers.
Squamish is in southwestern BC at the top of the Howe Sound. The town is very well situated, with Vancouver just a 1-hour drive to the south and Whistler (a world-class ski resort) 1-hour to the north.
On the downside, the city’s stunning location and easy access to both Vancouver have driven up property prices in recent years. Property prices are higher than average for British Columbia and more than twice the national average.
The climate is typical of the west coast; Squamish’s weather is generally mild with quite high precipitation levels.
Tofino is one of our favourite towns in BC and the smallest of our best small towns in BC. The town lies on the Pacific Ocean on the western coast of Vancouver Island. It is quite isolated but could be a great choice if you are looking for a quiet, stress-free life by the ocean.
The closest international airport is Victoria to the south of the Island, and it will take you almost 4.5 hours to drive here through the mountains.
However, the community does have a small airport around a 20-minute drive from the town. This is the quickest way to get to Victoria or Vancouver on the mainland. Other options for getting to the mainland involve taking ferries from Nanaimo or Victoria.
Tofino is known for its incredible wild scenery, including sandy beaches and rainforests, and it has great waves for surfing. The climate is also extremely mild in Canada, and snow is rare. However, the downside is that the town is very, very wet, with total annual precipitation of around 3300mm
Other downsides are that the average price of a home is well over a million dollars, the most expensive on our list of best small towns in BC. Crime rates are higher than the averages for Canada and BC.
Whistler is a mountain town home to Whistler Blackcomb, a world-class ski resort and one of the largest in North America. The centre of the town is a pedestrianized alpine-style village which sits at the base of the mountain.
Whistler lies at the southern end of BC’s coastal mountain range, less than a 2-hour drive north of downtown Vancouver. The town’s proximity to the Vancouver metropolitan area makes it a popular destination for Vancoverites looking for a weekend away or even a day of skiing.
Whistler is a spectacular resort location, but this comes at a price. The town has very high real estate costs and is one of the most expensive places on our list of best small towns in BC.
Whistler’s proximity to the coast means that its climate is milder than you might expect of a mountain town. It has fairly high levels of precipitation, but around one-quarter of this falls as snow.
Williams Lake is Williams Lake is an attractive lakeside community in central BC. This small city is surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers with a pleasantly dry and sunny climate.
The small city of Williams Lake lies around 300 km north of Kamloops on Highway 97, which is the main route to northern BC and the Yukon. The closest sizeable city is Prince George (population approx 100,000) which is around 240 km to the north.
Williams Lake has a relatively strong, diverse economy. However, the community has an aging population, and the availability of labour is the main threat to the city, which is keen to attract new residents to the area.
Williams Lake has cold winters and comfortably warm summers. The main benefit of the climate is that it is dry with a high number of sunshine hours.
Another benefit of Williams Lake is that it is one of the cheapest places to live on our list of best small towns in BC. This is mainly due to low property prices, which are less than half of the provincial average.
Conclusion – Best Small towns In BC
British Columbia offers a diverse range of small towns, each with its unique charm, amenities, and natural beauty. From the coastal allure of Tofino and the historic vibes of Nelson to the ski havens of Whistler and Fernie, there’s a place for everyone. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat, outdoor adventures, or a blend of both, BC’s small towns provide a perfect backdrop for a fulfilling life. As you consider your next move, remember to weigh the pros and cons of each location, keeping in mind factors like climate, cost of living, and community vibe. No matter where you choose, BC’s small towns promise a life rich in experiences and memories.