Our understanding of and ability to describe rural health conditions can be considerably enhanced by the use of rural health indicators which allow us to compare rural and nonrural areas or areas differentially located on the urban-rural continuum in terms of various health conditions. However, while health indicators abound, there are very few that can be used to describe the health conditions of rural Canada. This paper discusses the concepts of health in a rural context and adopts a broad definition of health that goes beyond the mere absence of disease or impairment. We propose five broad categories of health indicators: health status indicators, health determinant indicators, health behaviour indicators, health resource indicators, and health service utilization indicators. The most commonly used health indicators in Canada and the datasets from which they are derived are examined in order to assess their applicability to "communities" or "regions". This review highlights the strengths and limitations of various datasets and indicators and their applicability to the "community" and "regional" scale for rural environments. Finally, challenges in data availability and use are discussed as they relate to rural health indicator development.