Decent Family Canoe - Recommendations >

My family wants a canoe we can all cruise around in. We live in Oregon, and there is a good collection of lakes, slow rivers, slightly fast rivers and such. My oldest son is 9 and strong and seems game as well as my wife and 6 year old.

I’d like to buy used to save $, but this sure does limit the choices. I’ve only tested a few canoes. We tried out the We-no-nah Spirit II and the We-no-nah Cascade. Surprisingly, for beginners, we liked the Cascade more because of the maneoverability. If I’m in the back I can also easily correct my son’s learning curve and we all have fun (in the cascade). The spirit II seemed barge like and hard to turn, with the limited skill only in the back seat.

Advice I’ve got from others is either a new Old Town Penobscott 17 from REI or a Dagger Venture 17 used. The Penobscott’s about 1100$. The Venture used is 800$ (after asking 1000$). I found a used Cascade for slightly less. I’ve seen the Mad river Adventure 16 - looks like fun but also looks inefficient and like nothing we can grow into. I got one shot with the family to like this canoeing thing this summer. Advice is welcome.

I can’t find any opinions on the Cascade except what can be read off the web site.

I’ve read the reviews than determined later that everybody pretty much loves their own Canoe. Some insights were good. One question is, does a good “tracking” canoe mean that Dad can’t easily make up for kids learning in the front. I’m not wanting to canoe to yell anymore at my kids. They will learn. Fun comes first with something we can grow into, I hope. Please advise.


Great to have the kids along
Was fortunate last summer to do a lot of padding with my 10 year old daughter. I have a composite Wenonah Spirit II with bucket style seats. The boat is great for easy flat water. Couple of things I found when paddling with my daughter:

With my daughter in the front and me in the back, the boat was way out of trim. Moving the sliding bow seat all the way forward helped. You might want to consider sliding seats if you think you will do a lot of paddling with your son.

Composite is more expensive, and may not be appropriate for rivers, but it is lighter and a lot easier carry to the put-in alone.

Having said that, things change. My daughter got a kayak for Christmas, so its back to the solo canoe for me. Enjoy it while you can and consider yourself lucky when your kids come along. They grow up too fast.

Tough to find…
a canoe that will hold four and not be a bit of a barge. Two boats might not be an option for you, but that would probably be better than getting one giant canoe. You might think of renting, etc. when the whole family comes along.

With kids you just have to start slow. Go with short trips on easy water. Build up gradually. My eight year old often starts out strong, but winds up pretty quickly wanting to beach her kayak and ride with me a while, then later may race me in to the landing. Build flat water skills first. Remember, fun and easy learning are the goal. Short trips that everybody enjoys are far better than longer more difficult trips that may seem just your speed.

We are planning a short family trip to the lake this weekend. One 16.5 tandem canoe and two rec yaks. The Mrs. and I will be in the canoe…at least at the start. It won’t be the BWCAW or the canyons of the Rio Grande, but seeing the kiddos enjoying themselves and beginning to feel their own skills develop – nothing better.

There have been some good threads on padlling with children and you may want to search the archives for them.

As for the canoe, if all four are riding you need something in the 17 or maybe 18 foot range. Plenty of those out there but they all are big boats. The MR Revalation comes to mind as big enough and versitile. I don’t know much about the cascade. An OT tripper would work but is going to be barge like also and is heavy. Composites will be less barge like but then you wind up having to baby them some at the expense of more “direction” to the kiddos.

Good luck and have fun.

Interesting you mention the Cascade

– Last Updated: Apr-07-05 11:45 AM EST –

We ended up with a Spirit II when we were basically in your situation. With hindsight, the Cascade probably would have been a little better choice for us. But that is because (1) as a family, we do moving water almost exclusively, (2) when I'm not with the family, I am often looking for class II+, (3) we ended up adding a dedicated solo and a Solo Plus which means I don't need the Spirit II's superior solo ablitity (relative to the Cascade).

Also, I'll copy and paste here what I wrote under the Sliding Seat thread:

I got the factory bow slider on a Spirit II and will be replacing it with a standard seat when I get the chance. The Spirit II has a narrow bow station and with the slider rails, it is just too tight for my taste. In my opinion, the bow slider in that canoe actually reduces the boat's versatility since you can't really kneel effectively in the bow. The body is wider at that level when kneeling rather than sitting. In WW, the bow paddler can't help once the canoe starts going over to one side. Instead of being able to keep his mass centered over top of the canoe, his legs basically get locked in the slider rails and he becomes part of the rotating canoe. Kind of like grabbing the gunnels, only lower.

For whatever it's worth, this may add to your thoughts on a very difficult choice.

For 2 adults & 1 small child
our royolex Solo Plus worked great last fall with me in the back, my wife in the front and our 4 year old granddaughter in the middle seat. We were on a small lake and the granddaughter was dragging her hand on one side of the boat and then shifting her weight and dragging her hand in the water on the other side and we had no concern for swamping the boat.

There wouldn’t be enough room for four people though. Also, the total load with the three of us in the boat was only about 330 lbs.

Penobscot 17
I have a Penobscot 17 and use it with my wife. It will be difficlut to turn also unless you and your bow partner have some experience. If you buy from REI, they have a spring sale I think, coming up fairly soon, and you will save something like 20% on the canoe, plus you will get an REI refund at the end of the fiscal year which will be about 8-10% more off what you paid for it. You can also order Old Town Canoes through Cabelas, and they will drop ship them to you for about $25.00 shipping. Plus no tax (like Oregon, now that I think about it). Not a bad deal. Most of their boats are discounted a little also.

I recommend a boat that turns easily. You’ll have much more fun as a recreational canoer with kids on board. If you get really into canoeing, you’ll end up with more than one anyhow. Try reading some of the reviews on this site for 16-17’ canoes and see what strikes you as just right for you.

Spirit is no barge!
Yes the Cascade turns better. It was designed for Whitewater. And at one time it was made in composite layups. Now it is only made in Royalex.

If you are paddling rivers and need to manuever around lots of rocks and thru rapids with big waves, the Cascade is the best choice. None of the other brands you mentioned will carry your load in fast water as well as the Cascade.

On lakes it will be another story. A composite Spirit II will far outdistance the Cascade or the other hulls you mentioned. It will also weigh far less, and with your crew, you will end up doing most of the carrying. The composite Spirits will have the sliding bow seat which makes it much more enjoyable for your younger bow partners. The narrower the boat at the bow seat positionm, the easier the reach to the water for the small paddlers. They will keep their paddles closer to their bodies, keep the paddle shaft more vertical and stroke more efficiently, and keep paddling longer and happier.

I have four now grown children who grew up in a Spirit. We bought the Spirit because at the time it was the best hull to carry all five of us on fishing trips. Many thousands of miles later, that same boat is hanging on my rack and has seen a half dozen other hulls come and go. It has been up and down the east coast, in rivers, on lakes, in the ocean. On trips and in races. It has won races on lakes and in tight NJ Pine Barrens streams. The people who have chased this hull down streams and across lakes would not call it a barge.


Penobscot 17 - can the kids learn?
Thanks for the feedback. Ideally with some training, my kids can generate some skill to help paddle the penobscot 17. Realistically, with a class or a few lessons, what should be my expectation that they will learn?


Depends on their mood
There were some trips that my daughter paddled a lot - other trips she was just along for the ride. What ever you buy, make sure you feel comfortable paddling it alone, or with your wife.

Test paddle a Novacraft Prospector
or Wenonah Prospector. We know a family who put mom, dad and jr.hi kids in a Novacraft Prospector and it handled well. It’s a 16’ boat, but wide in the center. I was surprised how well it did. With 2 adults, it’s faster than our Penob 16.

If you’re mostly on flat water and lakes, look at a Clipper Tripper. That will haul a family of four. As others have said, when the kids get to a certain size, you’ll need more than one boat for what you want to do.

Your ship has come in
Check the pnet classified and you’ll see used Cascade in your state. Take the extra money and follow Mike McCrea’s advice. If you do that, I suggest you seriously consider a Solo Plus as the second boat, if you are a fairly large person. Check the reviews here on pnet.

OK which one?
Thanks again for all the messages, and I agree, the spirit II is far from a barge. Unskilled versus skilled is the issue. I still don’t have a feel if training 7 & 10 year olds is reasonable. I would think so.


Cascade used ~ 750$

Penobscott 17 new ~ 1000$ (on sale at REI?).

Spirit-II (too bad can’t get used in OR).



can kids learn to paddle a …
Yeah they can. Last weekend my Penobscot became the community canoe for a bunch of my riding buddies’ kids. None of them had canoe experience, but they wired the balance right away, and worked out a way to turn, even if it was backing up and then both paddling on one side! They sure weren’t using any of the strokes I “taught” them during their ten minutes of canoe 101.

If I were you, I’d go for the deal on the Cascade, and negotioate them down-unless it’s just like new. If you have more questions about a Penobscot 17, PM me and I’ll ramble on.

My Vote
Its free, but maybe not worth that much.

If the Cascade is in good shape I’d jump on it and offer 650. I don’t think Wenonah makes a canoe that won’t track at least fairly well :-). I looked at the specks and write up and it sounds like enough of a heavy hauler to handle your crew. You tried it and liked it, right? And it sounds like it ought to manuever better than some of their hard tracking lake boats. Since it is used, it has already depreciated and you should be able to get close to what you paid if it turns out not to suit you. Just be sure to check condition and price compare for used ones.

Then I’d take the couple hundred savings and put in an account to begin the fund for another canoe or some kayaks down the line.

Based on folks advice, I tried out the Spirit II and the Cascade again, but under load (full family on board). Underload, the cascade plowed though the water (not efficient)and was significantly more difficult to keep on Track. The kids also fit better in the front (like some folks said they would). So the Cascade is out even if there is a good deal. I can wait for a sale on the Penobscott 17 or the Spirit II or whatever comes along, that’s like the Spirit II. Thanks everybody. Now to find a deal on a Spirit II or similar canoe.


Consider the Champlain
from Wenonah, it is the big brother to the Spirit II. I have one and for a family hauler it works well, it is 18’ long, holds a ton of gear/people fairly efficient and has enough rocker to keep it manueverable for a bigger canoe. I have used mine from swamps, lakes and on Galveston Bay and in Port Aransas. It is a big canoe stable and seaworthy. So if you happen to see a used one give a thought.