Canoe for 4 (2 little kids)?


I’m looking for a canoe (if possible) that would do the following:

It could handle 2 adults and 2 kids (age 5 and 3)

I could paddle it myself (i.e one adult alone)

I could also maneuver it myself with the same 2 kids as passengers (i.e 1 adult and 2 little kids).

This would all be in lakes and slow, calm rivers, for day trips only.

Any suggestions? I see many canoes with 3 seats: are there ‘insertable’ seats for the 2nd child (if all 4 of us are together), or, are center seats wide enough for the kids to sit next to each other (or some other solution)?



The boats that you see with three seats are generally not intended to carry three people at the same time. They are intended to be larger solo/smaller tandem canoes set up to be paddled either solo or tandem. Examples are the Mad River Malecite and the Wenonah Solo Plus.

Depending on your sizes, two adults plus two kids might be a considerable cargo for one of these boats. Still, it would probably work if you restricted your paddling to relatively placid waters and did not carry any additional load.

Paddled solo, boats like these are typically a bit bigger than would be ideal, but they do work reasonably well for all but small stature, short armed adults.

You could probably use such a boat with you seated in the center seat and each of your kids on one of the end seats, but you would have to be careful not to bonk the kid in the bow seat on the head if and when you switched paddling sides.

Mohawk used to make a drop in center sling seat that hung from clips and nylon lines from the gunwales. Wenonah makes a somewhat sturdier drop in seat:

If it helps:

I am 6’3". My wife is 5’9". As mentioned, my kids will be 3 and 5 when I’m hoping to paddle (in a year).


Ad Hoc Tandem Seating
We paddled a lot with our daughters when they were young, doing day trips and overnights. In both our old 16’ home-built FG and later our Oneida 17, the girls’ seats were made by lashing two of the plastic ‘bucket’ parts salvaged from stacking chairs together back-to-back fore and aft of the carrying yoke. They sat back-to-back, one looking forward and one aft. Kept the weight nicely centered, and could be removed in a minute or two…

Never paddled solo, or with just the girls - so can’t help you there…but you’re going to enjoy it. Best of times, best of memories…

Well…I’m no expert…but if you look in my previous posts you’ll see that I had the same problem and came to the board with a similar question. I would definitely recommend an Old Town Tripper. You’ll see that this is a highly recommended canoe, has lots of space, stable and tracks well. I got mine used… 6 years old… $750… from Craigslist.

In fact, I just got back from a fun trip today with myself and 4 others in the Tripper.

Minimum one adult/kid aboard rule.
Something to consider. At least until they can swim and/or tread water for a reasonable time. With kids that young, you can’t rely totally on their PFD’s.

OT Camper
I had the same exact situation and I’d vote OT Camper over Tripper. It is 20+ pounds lighter, which is a huge plus since you want to use it solo or with a kid and no other adult. Also, it does not have the molded seats like the Tripper, making it easy to paddle backwards. I got my Camper used for $625, with paddles, on craigslist.

Anything big
First, at the ages you have, just about any 17’ canoe or bigger would be fine. A 16’ Prospector would have enough volume, too, but be a bit tight for space. Any canoe that will hold the whole family will be too big to comfortably solo in all conditions. However, if you paddle Canadian style, any canoe can be soloed fine as long as the wind isn’t too stiff. A consideration is what you will do in a few years, when they are old enough to paddle themselves. Will you buy a second canoe (best choice) or do you want one big enough to handle the four normal-sized people (harder).

Here are some recommendations of big stable boats, from least to most expensive (used of course):

Old Town Discovery 174 or 169

Grumman 17’

Grumman 18’

Old Town Tripper

Wenonah Sundowner (less stable, but often available)

Wenonah Champlain

Souris River Quetico 17 or 18.5

I have paddled my Champlain
solo but it wasn’t too much fun and would be downright dangerous without near perfect weather. I can’t imagine the other large volume models being any better for solo use. A large canoes is just a big weather vane when paddled solo.

I tend to agree
I have paddled some pretty big tandem canoes solo as well, but really wouldn’t much care to again. If it is your only boat you can certainly make it work.

Buying a boat that will sometimes hold one adult, sometimes one adult and two kids, and other times two adults and two kids is going to require a significant compromise. Either you are going to wind up with a smaller tandem than would be ideal for you, a larger solo than would be ideal for you, or both.

Goodness -
I have paddled a loaded tripper lengthy trips all by myself with no troubles. You just have to load it up but good and be conservative in windy rough stuff.

Of all the canoes mentioned personally I would pick the tripper. The Camper does not provide nearly the stability that the tripper does and it can’t handle rough stuff. I would pull the plastic seats and install ash frame seats with cane fillers.

Paddling with kids
I have to go with the smaller boat recommendation. The bigger canoes are quite windblown. We had several options to try and our best experience was with a Mad River 16’ Explorer which will accomodate your family easily but will be reasonable for you alone or with one child when they get a few years older. By the time our boys were 8 and 10 we had added a smaller, speedier canoe for Jill and the elder child. That allowed her to keep up and hide from the wind. Both canoes paddled backwards to trim the canoes nearly level. Small solo/tandem boats like the Malecite and Solo Plus are examples.

Prospectors from various makers are
popular in the UK, for solo and family use. They solo paddle their prospectors heeled toward the paddle side, so that they don’t experience the “reach” problem encountered by people trying to solo the Wenonah Spirit II, or my Bluewater Chippewa. Nice stability from a flattish shallow arch makes a canoe hard to heel so that one feels like one is reaching WAY over.

Wenonah has 15, 16, and 17 foot Royalex prospectors. NovaCraft has some prospectors. If Bell ever gets back in production, they have some.

Prospector hulls are usually not-so-shallow arch, somewhat rockered, and fairly full in the ends. They are not fast, but they do well on lakes. They are probably better in class 2 whitewater than the Spirit II, and certainly not inferior to the MR Explorer.

16 footer
I recommend a 16 footer. 17’ is a little hard to solo. And if its just you and the kids - you’re soloing like 98% of the time! Ask me how I know. :slight_smile: 16’ is still plenty long enough for 2 adults, 2 little kids if you’re not packing anything more than a cooler and a daypack. The recommendations above are really good. I would add the Wenonah Aurora to your short list. I’ve seen used RX Aurora’s on craiglist in the $5-600 range. I have a 16’ Esquif Avalon which I use similar to you - mostly me and kids on flat water. Its a super fantastic canoe, but a little pricey new (I got mine on sale) and hard to find used (in the US, at least). But if you do find one for a good price, the Avalon would be a perfect fit for you too.

Tripper vs Camper
The OT Camper is flat bottomed and extremely stable for kids. And the poster said this is for lakes and calm rivers, so no rough stuff anyways. Plus it already has the seats you’d want.

I wind up going solo a lot since my kids are not always up for it, so the weight difference really does play here. My local outfitter sells used Campers for ~$450 - well worth it for a family/solo canoe.

Camper advantages?
My experience with the Camper was that it is a good boat for small class 1 streams and small ponds, but not so good for lakes. It gets blown around easier than any other canoe I’ve been in. Also not a good canoe for more than two adults.

Solo in wind = ballast.
Soloing a large tandem in the wind can be okay with some added ballast. It will be slow, but you will get there. Makes it extra stable for “Canadian style” as well.

Camper vs. Tripper
Fair enough, but it all depends on your priorities and preferences. It sounds to me that the poster anticipates being the only adult in the boat, with or without kids, so loading and solo handling become bigger concerns. For my family and the easy rivers and small lakes we paddle, I value the flat bottom, the lighter weight, shorter length of the Camper. I’d much rather get blown around on windy days (which I intend to avoid) than deal with the extra weight, length, and discomfort of the kids sitting on the angled hull. So, the Tripper might be a better canoe for other reasons, but I think the Camper is a better canoe for young kids. Plus, I find that with kids, hugging the shoreline is much more interesting than being out in the middle of a lake, wind or no wind.

Either way, I’d say don’d spend too much or buy something you’d keep once you add a second canoe.

Sometime, tell me what you like about
the flatter bottom. The Tripper is flat enough. Any flatter and it would be a slug.

Check out a Wenonah Minn III
It can be out-fitted with either 3 or 4 seats, and if you get it in ultralight kevlar, you can load & unload it easily by yourself…