1. Larch Valley (Moderate)
You can't talk about hikes around Banff National Park and not mention Larch Valley. The hike offers exceptional views right from the get go, with the trailhead starting off at Moraine Lake.
Head to the west side of the lake and start your ascent up the 14 (yes 14) switchbacks. Good company is recommended to make them go by a little faster. Once you've conquered them though it's smooth sailing with views literally all around you. Follow the trail and you'll be greeted with lakes, a meadow, and maybe even some wildlife.
Honestly the biggest struggle of this hike will be finding parking at Moraine Lake, it's typically full by 5am for sunrise and then people clear out around 9am. After that it's basically luck of the draw if they'll be letting people up when you're there. The Roam bus is also doing trips to Moraine until October 12th. But if you can't get to Moraine don't stress, Lake Louise is just up the road and offers just as many outstanding hikes.
2. Big Beehive (Moderate)/Devil's Thumb (Hard)
Starting at Lake Louise, Big Beehive offers an impressive return on views per effort. Along the way you pass a multitude of Instagramable spots including a waterfall, Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes, and the Lake Agnes Teahouse. Fun fact, the staff hike up to the Teahouse 2-4 time per week and sleep in a loft above the kitchen.
After hitting up the Teahouse for a mid-hike tea and sandwich, continue along the shoreline around the lake until you hit the switchbacks. They seem intimidating, but keep an even pace and you'll be up in no time. Once you've conquered those it's a quick jaunt to the viewpoint with stunning views of Lake Louise. There's nothing like seeing the Fairmont the size of your thumb to make you feel accomplished.
If you're not satisfied at the top of the Big Beehive you can head up to Devil's Thumb, significantly harder than the way up to Big Beehive but very worth it. At the top you are rewarded with an bird's eye view of both Lake Louise and Lake Agnes.
3. Sulphur Mountain (Moderate)
Can you take a gondola to the top of the mountain and get the same views as if you hiked up? Yes. Will they look as jaw-droppingly awesome? Probably. Will you feel same pride in your heart knowing you conquered a mountain with your own two feet? Absolutely not.
This hike is great because it's right in Banff and easy combined with a day of shopping and strolling along Banff Ave. The trail consists of well maintained switchbacks and you are greeted at the top with gorgeous views of the Town of Banff, a choice of restaurants, full service bathrooms, and even a gift shop.
And hey if you drink one too many glasses of wine on Peak Patio or just decide you've had enough for the day you can always take the gondola down.
4. Barrier Lake (Moderate)
Just over an hour from downtown, Barrier Lake is a beautiful escape for minimal driving. For the best view of the lake take the path to the north side of the lake and follow the signs for Prairie View Trail. At the top you can turn around and head down the way you came or continue on to jewel pass which takes you past a waterfall and ends with a long walk along the shore.
If you aren't spent from the hike you can rent a SUP, kayak, or canoe and spend even more time soaking up the autumn lake air.
5. Tent Ridge Horseshoe (Hard)
I will warn you now, this hike is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to scramble and walk along ridges with drops on both sides. But with 360 degree views for the majority of the hike, it is more than worth it. As you walk along the ridge you will be greeted with peaks as far as the eye can see and an aerial view of Spray Lakes Reservoir and valley that will make you feel like the only person in the world.
The best part of this hike is that it's a loop so you never have to retrace your steps, and the two trailheads are walking distance apart so you only need one vehicle. A bit of a long drive, but bring some company, crank the tunes and make a day of it!
Always check the weather before going hiking and make sure you are prepared with food, water, proper clothing, first aid supplies, and bear spray. Choose a hike that you are comfortable with and fits your experience level.