Northern Lights reflecting in the calm waters
**Edit - As of March 2023, Blachford Lake Lodge is no longer in operation. The site still exists, but is waiting for new ownership.
100 kilometres East of Yellowknife, NT, lays a Jewel of The North - Blachford lake Lodge. An eco-friendly getaway, literally in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads in, no tour buses, not even any commercial planes flying overhead from what I can remember. The only sound is the breeze, and perhaps a distant sound of wolves howling if you're lucky. This was absolutely the quietest place I had ever experienced.
I chose to visit here in the fall of 2019, specifically in mid-September, when the bugs have retreated from the first frost, but before the lakes have started to freeze over, and at a time when the Aurora Borealis is historically most active - around the Autumn equinox - more on that later. There would be an equal 12 hours of daylight and darkness, leading to decent sunrise and sunset times, with lots of potential for northern lights.
The Bush Plane The float plane (or bush plane) ready to take us on the 20 minute journey to Blachford Lake
The journey starts in Yellowknife at the Air Tindi floatplane base. Anticipation builds as you are briefed on safety. The planes engines fire up, and before long you are skimming across the water of Great Slave Lake and then up, up, and away, a 20 minute flight over the dotted landscape of the Canadian Shield filled with little lakes, patches of boreal forest, and rock. Lots of rock. You may even catch a glimpse of a moose or black bear down below. Before you know it, you are coming in for a landing on Blachford Lake. It was my first time on a floatplane, and I wasn't sure what to expect for a landing. I braced myself for the worst, but the landing was smooth as butter, and hardly felt it.
The staff at the lodge are already waiting for you, and start unloading the luggage, hauling it up the hill on an ATV towing a wagon. You make your way up to the main lodge, admiring the view as the floatplane starts to load the group that is leaving the lodge that day. As you go inside, you are greeted by more staff and a beautiful interior adorned with all sorts of conversation pieces, a library, two large fireplaces, tables and chairs, and a bar, almost like a little restaurant. Your luggage has already been transported to your room (upstairs, or cabin if you're staying in one of those). Lunch is served, and after an orientation session and quick tour around to the various amenities around the site, you are on your own to explore.
A view of the dining area in the main lodge
The amenities and activities on-site to do are a lengthy list, and include; a hot tub, sauna, authentic Dene tipi (or teepee), boat docks with canoes, kayaks and motorboats, dozens of kilometres of maintained hiking trails, fishing, and much more! The staff are always more than willing to take you out and guide you on a hike, boat ride, or build a fire for you at one of the locations around the site. If you are more inclined to just relax around the lodge, there are plenty of crafts, games, and books to read. The staff has scheduled sessions showing you how to make spruce salve balm, dreamcatchers, and more.
Being so remote, lots of wildlife can be seen in the area. We saw black bears, moose, squirrels, all sorts of birds, and even a resident pine marten. Other wildlife that can be seen here include lynx, wolves, foxes, beaver and muskrats. There are no grizzly or polar bears in this area. However, it is recommended you bring bear deterrents while hiking, such as air horns or pepper spray (which are available for use at the lodge) but the best advice is just to make noise and travel in groups.
A pine marten that was hanging around the lodge during our stay
The main attraction, of course, is the northern lights or Aurora Borealis. Visitors come here from all over the world as this area is directly under the auroral oval, and in a rain shadow climate, meaning historically less precipitation and clouds. The lodge closes during the ice freeze-up between Oct and Dec, and again in April - July when the spring melt comes. Statistically, there is a 95% chance of seeing the northern lights at least one night during a three night stay here.
The hot tub in front of the lodge with northern lights overhead
The northern lights go through an 11-year cycle of a maximum and minimum, and even though we are in the minimum right now, the northern latitude of the lodges location give the added advantage of not needing a particularly strong solar event to see the lights. I chose to go in mid September as there is an increased chance of aurora activity due to the Russell-McPherron Effect which is essentially cracks in the Earth's magnetic field at that time of year. We ultimately had aurora on 3 nights out of 4, though we did have a bit of cloud cover due to a rare storm (for this time of year) moving in from the Pacific. Regardless, it was magical. Visitors let out yelps and screams of delight when the lights appeared. If you happen to fall asleep early before the lights are visible, not to worry, one staff member remains on watch for the graveyard shift, and will physically go around to each cabin and room to wake people when the lights are active if you have requested it.
Lights above the main lodge
From a photography aspect, Blachford Lake Lodge is an absolute dream. With a trifecta of; landscapes, wildlife, and northern lights, there is no shortage of nature subjects to shoot. I fell in love with the nature here and wanting to get back as soon as I could, I decided to expand my photography tours here in 2020, as I believe this is a place that any photographer would love staying at. As part of my workshop, I offer some assistance and advice for both in-field shooting settings, use of external lighting and compositions, and post processing over a 3 night/4 day stay. More details on my tour down at the bottom of this page.
Blachford Lake and its beautiful glacial water
For the shot below of the cabin, I used two different light sources. A Lumecube low-level lighting panel to softly light the foreground details, and the cabin's natural lighting. All it took was a little patience to wait for the aurora at the opportune time.
Bonus - use promo code MARK10 for a discount on any LumeCube products at the link above.
The aurora above one of the cabins on site
Finding compositions on the fly can often be one of the most challenging things for night photography. You don't really know where in the sky the aurora will appear at any given time, so having time to set up and dial in your settings can be quite limited. It's a good idea to scope out some places during the daylight and note them for later in the evening. As each night passes, you become more familiar with the area which helps too. For the shot below, the Tipi had some string lights inside already from a wedding the previous weekend. I liked the silhouette of the axe, woodpile and moose antlers, and got lucky with some unique aurora pillars here intersecting with the Milky Way galaxy. We also had a fire lit inside which we were using to keep warm, which also helped light the scene. I've included a photo of the inside of the Tipi as well below, of some fine folk from all over the continent who were part of this group.
The Tipi lit by a fire with some northern lights and milky way overhead
A look inside the Tipi
The Point Cabin
The cabins themselves are quite photogenic as well, especially with the fall colours. Whether you are a photographer or not, there is an endless supply of photo compositions and beautiful views around the lodge.
Autumn colours in front of the Old Trappers Cabin
I really enjoyed my time at the lodge. It was by far the most peaceful place I have ever visited, the quiet and solitude was amazing, especially if you head off on one of the nearby hikes. The staff at the lodge were all very accommodating, taking us on guided hikes, boat tours around the lake looking for eagles, showing us handcrafts such as making spruce salve and dreamcatchers in our spare time.
And the food - just wow! Each meal is prepared fresh in the onsite kitchen, including freshly baked bread. There was an incredible amount of variety, and meals are served buffet, serve yourself style, at shared tables so you can get to know your travel companions and make new friends. From filling breakfasts, delicious afternoon pastries, made from scratch soups, to mouth watering suppers, all meals are included as part of your stay cost, making this a true all inclusive experience If you are looking for a place to truly get away from it all for a few days, Blachford Lake Lodge has everything you need for some R&R. Join me in September 2020 for the ultimate northern lights adventure and getaway - more details below.
Northern Lights just outside of Yellowknife, NT
For the first time, I am expanding my photography tours/lessons to this stunning area for September 2020. At the link below you can find out more info about my photography retreat here, and while this event is mostly already full, I may have 1 or 2 spots available depending on your accommodation needs. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I announce tours and workshops and will likely be heading to Blachford Lake each year going forward. The link for my newsletter is also below.
If you decide to go, I highly recommend spending a few days in the Yellowknife area either before or after your trip to the lodge too. The more days in the area that you have, the more you increase your chances of seeing a great display of Northern Lights.
Some highlights in the Yellowknife area:
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