Northern Forest Canoe Trail -Which canoe

If you were going to paddle the NFCT, and had to pick between three solo canoes to do it in, which of the following solos would you take and why? I’m thinking about doing the whole trail in the near future and am having a hard time deciding on a canoe. On one hand, the big lakes and flat water sections and the long portages seem to indicate the Magic, but the fast water sections seem to point towards the Yellowstone. I haven’t built a Freedom Solo because Steve Killings is still working on the plans, but I’ll probably build it this summer after plans become available.

Bell Magic - Kevlar

Bell Yellowstone Solo - Plastic

Freedom Solo - Cedarstrip


The one that weights the least…

I’ve been toying with the idea ,
of doing the NFCT too but I doubt I’ll do it.

If you are thinking of doing the whole enchilada in one thru-paddle, I think that would mean some significant upstream travel. The traditional way to deal with it in shallow and swift rivers is to stand tall and pole it. Ever try that in a solo canoe? I did it once so far in my RX Wildfire and it was pretty tough, the boat just kept turning downstream every chance it got. Also very unstable, it was exhausting to try and keep level, and I fell out to the amusement of river-bank anglers :slight_smile: I’m not ready to quit yet though as I haven’t tried it with a load, which should help with the stability part anyways and maybe the tracking.

But I’m also sure it would be easier with a tandem canoe, probably an all-purpose design like an OT Penob 16 or MR Explorer. Not as light but perhaps you could use a cart? The NFCT isn’t all wilderness, some carries will likely be on roads.

Maybe someone who knows the trail better will chime in and tell us how much upstream there is and whether its paddlable or ‘poler only’, perhaps I am all wet (again).

Good luck and don’t forget the trip report.

You might want to rig an upwind sail for the lakes. Wouldn’t that be a wicked kick?

I went to an hour long slide presentation the other night on the NFCT presented by Kate Williams.

It was a great photographic tour of the trail. I think this presentation is due to show up at a few locations over the summer. Go and see it if you get the chance. My only gripe is there are too many plastic boats in the photos! :slight_smile: A couple of Atkinson Travelers and a few other wood canvas canoes were featured.

Two thumbs up.

There are significant upstream travel sections and whitewater. 57 miles of portaging.

Reportedly, the only thru-paddler to date (although I think I heard someone else did it recently) completed it in a wood and canvas canoe he built himself. I believe it was a 16 footer.

Not sure if any of the three
Bryan, you’re a good choice to do the whole NCFT, based on what I’ve read about your BWCA exploring. I too have looked carefully at doing the NCFT, and I’m not sure just one canoe is the best choice, given the broad range of water; wind blown lakes (Lake Champlain in particular); rock and ledge class II-III; lots of fairly long portages (some by car, but not many); plenty of upstream work if you paddle west to east straight through (section paddling may be a good idea, always going downstream), and so on. I don’t have the specs for Steve Killing’s Freedom Solo (I sort of wish he’d call it something else so as not to confuse it with Mad River’s Freedom Solo), So, I can only offer you my opinion of the Magic and the YS Solo.

If I was making the decision to paddle the length of the NCFT today I’d choose to go in my Supernova Blue Steel. It weighs 36 pounds, handles big waves and windy lakes well, especially if you can quarter into the wind, loves rapids and big water, and can carry all your gear and food and a big dog as passenger. The SuperNova was designed by Gary McGuffin for just the type of travel you are considering.

My second choice would be a Swift Shearwater expedition kevlar. Faster than the Supernova, but not as fast as the Magic. Will haul a good load, and you can stand and pole it but not as well as a big, flat bottom tandem. It weighs 44#, which is the same as the YS Solo plastic, But, the Shearwater is a heck of a lot faster than the Yellowstone Solo plastic. The Shearwater turns well enough to run Class II and low III rapids that don’t require instant directional changes. If it’s a pretty straight shot the Shearwater will ride high and dry, even in really big wave trains that would swamp the YS Solo. If you want to build the Shearwater as a stripper you can buy the plans through Martin Step at I just got mine on disc, and am looking forward to laying her up.

After careful consideration of the Yellowstone solo I’d eliminate it because it’s too shallow and narrow to carry much load (as I recall you’re a fairly big guy, and you’ll be carrying plenty of gear and food), at 14 feet it is not ever going to be a fast, easy to paddle canoe on lakes and river flatwater. It manuvers well, sure, but it doesn’t run well empty in bigger rapids, and loaded it will swamp very quickly in some of the bigger II’s and definitely in the III’s.

If it weren’t for the weight on the portages I’d also suggest the Mad River Freedom Solo. It is the perfect canoe for most of the NCFT, except for the big lake crossings where it will be a bit slow. It’s also too short to have much glide per stroke, which means you’re working harder to get down the flat stretches.

If you’re planning to section paddle the NCFT, then I’d definitely go with the Magic for parts, the YS Solo for parts. Maybe after I learn more about Steve’s Freedom Solo and get a chance to paddle one I can say it is the perfect canoe for the NCFT, who knows?


– Last Updated: Apr-23-06 10:34 PM EST –


I am a section paddler of the NFCT in New England. Though I've only completed about 120 trail miles to date, it has been on a good variety of waterway. My trail effort is West to East, so I have spent some of my time ascending as well as descending. I have a Wildfire.

The range of paddling (and poling and portaging) on the NFCT is great, so if I were forced to use only one canoe for all of it, it would have to be a jack of all trades boat. Most boats could handle the flatwater, the big lakes, the Class 2 descents, etc. Sure, some will be faster, some better in the wind, some more nimble in the rapids, but they can all do the job. I would be more concerned about choosing a boat that makes sense for the portaging and the ascending. I would try to find a boat light enough that you can portage it for miles, and larger enough that you can pole it effectively.

It is true that some of the longer portages are quite wheel-friendly, so you might get away with a heavier boat in some places. There are also some real class 3 drops (in my direction anyway), so consider this as well. For a thru-paddle, you should look at the trail route and consider your resupply points. My Wildfire certainly has plenty of volume for me, but maybe I pack lighter than some. I do pole my Wildfire, but not terribly well. Think about lining, tracking, and dragging too when you consider your boat.

Two people have completed the whole trail, to my knowlege: one in a single season, the other over two consecutive seasons, both West to East.

My plan at this point is to use a lightweight packboat for some of the portage intensive sections, a WW boat for the Class 3 stuff, and my tandem for some of the poling. That said, I'll probably end up traveling 80+% of the miles in the Wildfire.

Here is a link to a little 4 day trip on the NFCT in Maine, much of it upstream. There are some embedded picture links.

And here is a link to Kate's presentation schedule, as well as other NFCT events:

Great trip report!
Thanks for posting that great trip report, makes me yearn even more to get on the NCFT.

I have a Wildfire like yours, and for some reason haven’t considered poling it, but now I will. Now that I think about it, the Wildfire (not the Yellowstone Solo Royalex) is an excellent choice for most of the NCFT. Not as fast on the flats as some, not as manuverable as some, not as big a gear hauler as some, but all in all a darn nice little canoe.

To further elaborate on Bryan’s question about the Yellowstone Solo, I think the primary difference between the YS Solo and the Wildfire is that the YS is assymetrical, which makes for a narrower bow and narrower chines at the paddling station. This means the little canoe will dive into waves that the Wildfire will ride over (sometimes). And, the narrower chines of the YS make it harder for me to kneel and get my knees spread far enough apart for a good brace. The other detriment of the YS Rx is that the published weight of 44# is hardly ever accurate. Most of them weigh 50# or more. For a moderate size paddler the YS is plenty big enough, but for my 225# and 50-60 pounds of gear the Wildfire is more my size.

As for poling, the WF is only 14’ with plenty of rocker, so she wants to turn at every stroke. Your success in poling her indicates you have very good boat and body control. Comparatively the Swift Shearwater is 16’ with less rocker and more glide, so she would be a little more foregiving for poling, I think.

Thanks again for posting your trip report, very inspirational.