I live in Calgary and my Fiance is a big photographer so we’re in the park a lot for that reason. What type of photography might help narrow down where you should go. Like, animals/landscape? Specific animals or specific features you’re looking to capture?
For fancy hotels I’d highly recommend a fairmont property (there is one in Banff and one in Jasper) The Banff one is called the castle of the Rockies (officially the Banff Springs Hotel) and it’s got some amazing turn of the 20th century charm to it and amazing views. Jasper’s property is a bit more rustic and more like cabins that are higher end. Picking between the two, I’d stay at the Banff Springs. Any dining you’ll do here is also going to be amazing – but you will pay for that privledge. Fairmont also has reputation for great spas. Another good spa in Banff is at the Rim Rock. If you stay at Banff Springs I’d check out a “tour of the castle” which goes through the history of the hotel including how it contributed to the start up of travel agencies that kicked started tourism in the world (not just the region) which I thought was pretty cool.
For hikes… hmm… there are SO many I’m not sure where to begin. I’d probably stop into a ranger station / info center and ask the parks staff. The reason I recommend this is because they know the trails intimately – they can help you pick one for your requirements (and provide maps) but they also know trail conditions and locations of bears which will help you stay safe when you don’t really know the mountains. You MAY have snow near mountain summits in september (but no, it’s not really cold – but you’ll want some layers).
For stuff to do:
In banff – visit the hot springs (especially nice after a hike). the gondola up sulfer mountain offers some great views and photo ops and mountain goats like to hang around up there. You can hike sulfer mountain to save the cost of the gondola but it’s steep and not pretty until the top. Lake Minnewanka is a nice lake for photos and water activities and is close to banff. If you’re after animal shots, there are some ways to “cheat” a bit – you can join up on a wildlife tour. I beleive there is also a bear santary around that lets you get safer photos of bears and dramatically increase your chance of seeing one (I’ve never been here – but i’ve seen them advertised in the tour provider shops) Another very scenic lake is Lake Louise which you probably will pass going between banff and jasper.
By Jasper, if glacers strike your fancy take a trip on a ice explorer in the columbian ice fields. You’ll get to see ice crevaces and such and it’s quite educationals with great views.
If animals are your thing and you have time the trip from Banff to Radium goes down a highway were I almost always see widelife – but it can be a dangerous road so drive with caution especially during twilight or at night. In Radium you’re almost guarenteed to meet a group of big horned sheep that I’ve seen in town every trip I’ve ever made here. There isn’t much in Radium except the hotsprings (which I actually like better than Banffs) but it’s a great place to see animals. Last trip to Radium we saw 2 bears, mountain goats, mountian sheep a few times, 2 types of deer several times over, a coyote and elk….. and this was just off the highway.
If you are able to make it to Golden (maybe to far out of the way) the white water rafting is world class. By september the water is a bit lower and I’ve never traveled the lower canyon at that time of year but that’s a very challenging set of white water and a ton of fun. You might be able to rent kayaks in Golden but I’m not sure I’d try it there unless you are experienced with white water kayaking.
Banff dining can be kind of pricey – you might want to take the short trip out of the park to Canmore for dinners. The best resturants in Baff however are mostly steakhouses. Trip advisor or yelp can help you pick good places here. I’m not sure about Jasper but many of the smaller hotels in Banff are more rustic – anything that’s called Chalets will probably be what you’re after. Again, I’d probably go through trip advisor because I don’t stay over night often.
For what to wear, mountain climates can be unpredictable and weather changes quickly as you hike or change altitude. In Septmeber in the towns you might have 80 degree weather but it will more in the 60s once you gain a bit of altitude and then you might turn a corner on a mountain and it’s back in the 70s. I’d bring strudy footwear (with grip and ankle support if you’re hiking – I wouldn’t go anywhere near a harder or technical hike without proper hiking boots but easier hikes don’t need them), whatever you’d wear for 80’s weather and then layers that would allow you go drop twenty degrees. Often we’re wearing shorts with track pants, a tshirt with a fleece and/or a lighter jacket. I’d always have rain protection with me on any hike out there. I will often bring gaters to keep my feet drier if there is any mud or a creek that might need to be crossed. If you are prone to being really cold, bring a wool hat and light gloves (not something I would need in september though).