Best family touring canoe?

I am looking to replace my Grumman tank (17’, 80#) with a lighter (around 60# or less) canoe. It would be used primarily on slow rivers, small to large lakes and eventually some BWCA trips. At times it would need to hold 2 adults, 2 kids and a big dog plus gear for short camping trips. Stability is important because, as my wife says, if it dumps with the kids in it they’ll never get back in. They are 2 and 5. I want them to grow up with an appreciation of canoeing and all of its associated pleasures. Research has led me to the Wenonah Sprit II, the Nova Craft Prospector, Swift Temagami, Winisk, Algonquin or Kipawa or the Mad River Explorer. Wenonah, Swift and Mad River can be found and paddled locally. Any thoughts, suggestions or personal experiences would be appreciated. Thanks! Dave

Bell Northwind
Why not a Northwind? I have paddled a Northwind a fair amount & think it is a great all around canoe. Stable, fairly fast, good volume, and fun to paddle. Take a look at it.

add a Clipper Tripper to your list
You may have to travel a distance to try one. They’re made in BC.

Our friends have one and do what you’re describing (without the dog, but add a kid). The boat is fast and stable. More freeboard than Wenonahs. They come in different layups.

Have fun shopping!

Canoes to choose
Have a look at the Wenonah Champlain, it is the bigger version of the Spirit II. I think a 17 ft maybe a bit small for your load of people, pets and gear. I have one and do enjoy it, weighs 67 lbs, 18’ 36" wide, good and stable.

I have a Wenonah Adirondack (16")

– Last Updated: Jan-28-04 12:38 PM EST –

Just posted this as a reply on another thread, but thought you might find it helpful as well. FYI - we typically do 3-4 day wilderness trips, sometimes with my 5 year old, and find the Royalex version is sufficiently light enough (55-ish pounds) that beau can carry it & our huge sealine pack,while I troop with the rest of the gear. Have also taken this canoe on trips where we've traveled with 3 generations of family, loaded down with gear, and it handles waves just fine. Actually last year took it to a fairly windy lake in the AKDs during a hurricane, no less, and it also handled the wind and waves just fine, loaded or unloaded.
We purchased a drop in seat (at was pretty cheap but suits the 5 year old fine, so she can sit just back of me (helps distribute the weight) and still reach to "paddle" if she chooses. The canoe travels just as well on open lakes empty as full, although with our weight differential the front end could go a little loopy (good thing I am a decent, strong paddler) When my beau and I were making our decision regarding our canoe purchase, we found the information provided by We-no-nah invaluable. We did end up purchasing a We-no-nah Adirondack (which we are very happy with) but the great thing about We-no-nah literature (especially their printed brochure, but some info included on their website) is that it explains all the terms (like "rocker") and things you should look for, so you can make an intelligent decision on the right type of canoe for you based on how, where, etc you paddle, regardless of whether or not you purchase one of their canoes. Here is a link I think you will find most helpful. After re-reading your post, I agree, 4 people plus dog might be a tighter squeeze. We also looked at the4 Spirit II, but thought it a little too big for us - you should prob. take a "test drive" in that. Love to hear from you on how it handled.
GOod luck. Happy paddling. LEAVE NO TRACE.

I would look for secondary stability instead of something that seems rock solid initially. Your kids will learn to adapt to a more lively boat, but you may not know there is a problem until you are wet in something that doesn’t have any wiggle. By the way, a little water won’t hurt the kids, my son managed to fall out of the canoe when he was 18 months old, he still loves to go out.

I have a Winisk, and it would work well in your application until the kids get larger, you can plan for that now and get a boat over 18’ or see how it goes and get one later. It may take some time to adjust to compared to the Grumman.

You would be well off to gather the family up on a nice warm day and paddle a few of your choices.


Stable canoes
I always reccommend a Prospector, but this time with a caveat: It is a very tippy canoe. That does not mean it is not stable. It means it rides the water well.

Flat bottomed boats stay flat on the water. This makes them seem stable when you get in and out of them. The troubles come when the water is no longer flat. When the water gets tilted, from a boat wake or wind waves, the flat bottomed boat will still stay flat on the water…which means it is now leaning over at a 45 degree angle. Ker-plunk! In the drink you go!

A boat with a more rounded bottom wobbles like a drunken horse when you first get in, but tends to stay in the upright position regardless of the shape of the water, like a ball floating.

Learn to get in & out of a canoe properly. Learn to swivel you hips with the motion of the boat. Learn a high & low brace.

We started taking our kids canoe camping when they were small enough to sit side-by-side in our Prospector. We also had all our gear. We would paddle deep into the Adirondacks without any problems.

Now they grown adults and recently I asked my daughter what her most memorable experiance was from our camping trips.

“Well,” she said disgustedly, “I remember it raining real hard one day while I sat in the canoe under a tarp lashed to my brother.”

Odd–I don’t remember ever lashing the children together.

Spirit II or Nothwind
I was recently in the same situation. I finally narrowed it down to either the Spirit II or Northwind. I bought a Spirit II to get the extra 6 inches length and a little more stability. There a a number of good general purpose canoes depending on your preferences. Good luck.


We and the kids grew up with a tripper
similar to the Winisk. No one ever fell out, and everyone quickly adapted to the somewhat tender initial feel, backed by enormous secondary stability.

Now that the kids are out, and we’re over 60, we kind of enjoy the firmer initial stability of our Bluewater Chippewa. I thing the Spirit II and the Champlain would also suit a family very well, but if you wanted to start them off in a Bell Northwind, you couldn’t go wrong.

No perfect boat…but
Thanks for all of the terrific input - love the personal experiences! It looks like I am on the right track and will be pretty happy with any decision made. The Clipper Tripper sounds like a great boat, but the nearest dealer is 1800 miles away. If I’ve learned anything from my time spent at PNet, it’s that one should “Try it before you buy it” whenever possible. We have a good local dealer here in IA (CanoeSport Outfitters), and I like to keep my money in the community when I can. They carry Wenonah, Bell, Swift, Mad River and Old Town so I should do alright.

18’ or better
Among my boats I’ve a Wenonah Sundowner 18’ that has served my family quite well over the last ten years. It has comfortably carried up to 4 people with light gear for camping, tripping or fishing outings. I’d chosen the 18 over a 17 for the extra volume as well as what I perceived to be superior secondary stability. Sans the passengers and gear, the Sundowner with decent paddlers is adequate competition for a Jensen 17. The Spirit II gives way some of the efficency of the Sundowner as it provides a bit more width.

Another boat to consider (although a bit more expensive) would be the Wenonah Itasca. I’ve actually been considering upgrading to the Itasca. Not only does the Itasca provide even more volume (yes we do tend to get bigger over time and my trips are getting far longer and more remote) but it’s unique lines may also facilitate moving the larger stronger paddler into the bow.

Having paddled a 17 Grumman you should certainly not have any problem mastering these longer, faster, lighter boats. Test paddle a few different models and you’ll find your favorite.

Family canoe tripping is a terrific way to grow together…

I actually have an opportunity to purchase a used '93 Sundowner in the Kevlar UL layup for $950. It seems like a very good price assuming good condition. However, several descriptions have included the word ‘twitchy’ and referred ot more experienced paddlers. The longer trips will be few. Slow rivers and lakes will be the norm. would you still recommend it?

i was in the same boat last year. i decided on the bell northwind in royalex. it’s about 62 lbs and i loaded it with the family with no problems.

i don’t think you can go wrong with any of those choices but for me the bell was best.good luck

spirity II
I’m not a canoe afficionado and haven’t had a lot of exposure to different canoes but did paddle from Pt.Richmond to Red Rock Island in the SF Bay in a spirity II,it’s a big boat for the load you describe and does everything pretty well. I’d spend a little time with vinyl non-skid to make the interior user friendly for dogs, get to know the aluminum seat hangers so no one gets cut. Gluing minicell pads where your knees might contact on the sides near the seats is nice.

I owned a Sundowner 17 for what you describe but the Spirity II will be better for someone wanting capacity and stability. Pure flatwater stability will not be an enjoyable thing if you like to use the paddle.


– Last Updated: Jan-29-04 8:55 AM EST –

The Wenonah catalog provides apt description of their hulls and characteristics, as well as a good guide to hull designs in general.

The term twitchy is kind of an odd description. To an unitiated paddler the clean rounded hulls that characterize the Wenonah lineup may feel a bit "tender" or "twitchy" however when put to the test, the boats evidence unexpectedly solid stability. The issue here is initial/primary vs. reserve/secondary stability.

Initial stability is often found in the flatter bottomed "sport style" canoes - these boats feel quite stable with a static passenger load on quiet water. Secondary stability is the ability of the boat to appear to become more stable and resist capsizing once the boat is leaned or stressed - most trippers/cruisers will tend to favor secondary stability and so develop more speed in good conditions and more stability when stressed. The challenge with high initial is that you've typically low secondary - get your load unbalanced, center of gravity high and over the boat may go - no reserve to assist you as you attempt to recover.

Boats favoring secondary stability will feel more lively but provide you a greater capacity to recover (i.e. your kids decide to suddenly lean over the same gunnel - the boat follows suit, but the secondary provides you the margin to recover). In addition, as you gain experience with the hull, the livelier boat will reward your advancing skills with enhanced performance. These boats feel quite different from your Grumman and will require you to initially trust the hull as you learn the capacity (like gaining sealegs, the initial learning curve is swift). Try one and you'll feel what I describe.

If the '93 is the 18' boat - depending on it's condition and prior care - you may have a winner (although you may be able to chip away a bit more of that price). The 17' has a considerably different feel - a bit more "twitchy" to my senses.

I had a 17’ glass sundowner,it’s great,the more rounded 18’ rolled around easier but I don’t think it’s meant to be a boat for two paddlers only without gear,the Escape has been looking interesting.

My first canoe was a poly 16 flat bottomed old town. The second was the 17’ Sundowner. I could get a 110lb lab into the tippier Sundowner more easily than the more stable flat bottomed Old Town.

The first canoe I owned was a Sundowner in Glass… It was heavy and could have used rear sliders but I never felt any degree of twitchy-ness. I use to use it with a bunch scouts just out of the cubs (almost like having dogs in the boat they are every-where) If I could pick one up in an ultralight layup I would. I feel it is an exceptional design.


Twitchy Sundowner
The ‘93 is 18’. The guy is throwing in 2 Bending Branch bentwood paddles. I’m going to see it tomorrow. It’d be nice to paddle it first, but this time of year I’d need a pretty big indoor swimming pool. That’s why I appreciate the advice and words of those with a bit more experience. Thanks again.

Family Canoe
One suggestion I have is a canoe from Great Canadian in Mass.

I bought a 16’ cedar strip canoe. It is is the same price range as some kevlar boats and weighs about the same, only 56lbs. I can put it on my SUV by myself. Stable as you cannot believe - - 38" wide. It almost did not fit on my wife’s station wagon it is so wide. The canoe is rated to hold at least 800 lbs. (On the canadian manufacturers website, Canot Roby, they rate it as holding 1100 lbs but that is loading the boat till the gunwales are awash – not a good idea) I have a 6 year old (bougth it when he was 5) and with the center seat I had put in he can sit near the gunwale and paddle with no sense that the boat may tip. He also likes to cast while Mom & Dad paddle.

This is a very beautiful canoe. I get great comments everywhere I go. It is white cedar with mahogany hull strips, gunwales and decks. Teh fittings are brass and stainless steel. The seats are rawhide and surprisingly comfortable (even for my 250 lbs rear but leave a funny pattern if the shorts ride up). Maintenance is not an issue so far. The nice thing is if the hull gets scratched, a little sanding, a little marine varnish and no more scratch. You cannot say that about a lot of plastic canoes.

Ian at Great Canadian is very knowledgable and was a big help in choosing this canoe. I would strongly suggest you look into this boat for your family.