We-no-nah Minn II vs Bell NorthWoods

I’m looking for a lake tripper that can be set-up with a 3rd seat. I figure a canoe around 18.5’ should be able to handle my needs - 3 paddlers (mom & dad and a “tween”) and gear for two week trips. Total load under 600 lbs, we are all experienced canoe trippers. For ease of portaging I’m thinking about a light-weight Kevlar boat (no gel-coat) with aluminum rails. This boat doesn’t need to be pretty, but it must be light and have good hauling capacity.

Has anyone out there had experience with both the We-no-nah Minnesota II and the Bell NorthWoods? I’m looking for opinions on how these two canoes compare to each other in “real world” performance. Thanks! Randall

MN2 vs Northwoods
I’ve spent several weeks in Wenonah Minnesota 2’s and only hours in the Bell northwoods. I own neither boat, but do own a Minnesota 3. The Minnesota 2 is faster than the northwoods, it’s the better sit and switch boat, it is narrower in the bow and therefore less comfortable for the bowman, in my opinion it’s a great boat with a load up to 550 pounds but starts to bog much over 600 pounds, the low center at 12.5" keeps a low profile to the wind but the northwoods is the better rough water boat. The MN2 is without a doubt a go fast, go straight boat. The northwoods with its rocker can be controlled by the sternman’s correction strokes alone. To manueuver and sometimes control the MN2 the bowman will need to help with draws, slices, and sweeps. The northwoods has more capacity than the MN2. Both boats are very stable especially loaded, both are comfortable to fish from even dead in the water. You could set up either boat for 2 adults and a kid, but you give up pack space room to do that. I also think the northwoods has the capacity to handle 3 adults and a couple packs also, but the better canoe for 3 large people with full gear for a week or more would be the Minnesota 3.

Also consider the We-no-nah Odyssey
If you are leaning towards the Min II take a look at the Odyssey, it sort of resembles the Min II but w/more flare in the bow (and room) and deeper all around w/better rough weather performance. It is also 18’6", just a more livable boat as far as space goes. It is also quite a fast point-point boat w/the rough weather handling of the Bell. You will not see it on We-no-nahs site but they will still build it, albiet for a small mold prep fee. Been paddling one since '93 and love it w/over 1,200 canadian miles and double that at home.

Thank you
I appreciate the informed responses. DM’s comments support the conclusions I’ve drawn from the published specifications for these two canoes to a “tee”. Thank you very much! Randall

Consider Souris River Quetico
I am a fan of Bell (own one) and Wenonah (the std. for years), but encourage you to add a SR Quetico 17 or 18.5 to your list. I find that too few people are even aware of them. Check it out at www.redrockstore.com.

All models involve trade-offs, so it really comes down to what you want to optimize at the expense of other options:

MN II: Very fast, limited stability, widest weight range, low volume for 18.5’ (low center/stern freeboard), low to moderate durability, utilitarian look. The std. in tripping for years, but this is changing…

Northwoods: Beautiful (all Bells are), good speed, lots of volume, moderate durability, maneuvarable.

Quetico 17/18.5: Great stability, high volume, slower, most durable; best combination of toughness and weight, but you will sacrifice some speed (but will enable you to be on rough water more, so I argue it will make up for any slowness).

Prices should be comparable.

One measure of a model’s performance is how many you see on the used market. (Yes, this is also a function of how many get sold new.) I challenge you to find a single Quetico (16/17/18.5) on the used market. People flat out do not sell these, because they are so good for real-world tripping.

If stability (especially in wind/waves) and durability are top criteria (this is real world), you cannot beat a SR Quetico. If speed or beauty are more important, consider the MN II or Northwoods, respectively.

stability of Minn2 ?
I have not paddled the Bell or the Souris river, but I am surprised that anyone could feel they are not stable. In the Bogey and Becall race two years ago RedcrossRandy and this Baldpaddler had the center of the Minn2 out of the water with the bow and stern stuck in waves.Sunlight was shineing under the middle of the boat! (Ask andy body who was there to verify, JackL saw it!

So maybe the others seem more stable but I do not know many paddlers who want to be out in small craft advisory weather!

p.s. We did not go swimming or roll even though a goodly percentage of the kayaks did! So I guess aMinn2 is much more stable then a kayak.

Thanks Gopher
I appreciate your input.

I have limited experience with Souris River canoes, but I am aware of their product line. I’ve looked at them at the Red Rock web-site over the years and test paddled one once briefly. The Souris River model line is well worth considering, but as I’ll explain they are no longer competitive price-wise for me where I live in Ohio.

In my current quest for a large tripper I did consider the SR line-up (and others) before I narrowed the field to Bell and We-no-nah. With the Canadian dollar stronger than at any time I can remember the cost of Canadian canoes is now about the same as most US builders. Red Rock’s prices are currently following the 2005 MSRP for Souris River – at that level they are about the same as comparable Bells and We-no-nahs (not including shipping which I’ll get to in a moment). However prices at Red Rock are scheduled to increase on May 1st , after that they will probably be much more expensive than the US competition.

Sadly Souris River does not have a dealer network in the USA, in fact as far as I know Red Rock is the only SR dealer in the States. They are located a thousand miles from where I live. Motor freight shipping from Ely, Minnesota to SE Ohio runs into the hundreds of dollars per boat. Bell and We-no-nah on the other hand both have dealers in my area and their dealers are competitive with each other on pricing. Additionally there is no delivery charge from my local Bell and We-no-nah dealers. The end result is that at present a Souris River canoe would end up costing me about 20% more than a comparable We-no-nah or Bell. As fine as Souris River canoes may be they are not currently competitive outside of their home turf. …sad economic realities…

This is an opportunity!
Now I understand, Arkay This is too bad but a sad reality of the canoe industry. There is another US dealer (in Kansas City, I believe), but that does not help you in Ohio.

This may actually be a good thing, though, depending on how you approach it. You’re missing a golden opportunity. Time to get creative. You should use this as more reason to plan a trip to Ely to 1) buy the canoe and 2) take an extended trip in BWCAW/Quetico. A new canoe and a great trip all in one – that’s as good as it gets!

my two cents
I’ve been in the Bell and it will love your load…it’s like a big Northstar…loves a load, cruises great, and you could spin it within it’s own length if you wanted to. Wonderful stability sitting or kneeling. Big/effortless capacity.

Haven’t paddled the Wenonahs; no doubt they are faster by a margin. Based on DM’s comments the MNII is too small for you and you’d want a MNIII to take your load comfortably.

So I think the Bell is the sweeter all around boat but I’d never buy a Bell without seeing it; their Quality has just gone down over the years as their volume increased and now they are quite inconsistent; I paddle with a woman that had to return her ultralight Morningstar because it was like jello. I know three dealers that would agree (in private) that Bell quality isn’t too great any more.

A pair of us did a week in the boundary waters two summers ago with a Kevlight Northwind and loved it. Three of us may go this summer and I was thinking we’d rent a Northwoods. I’ve got a Northwind in royalex and just like the handling and stability of the Bells so much. We had some rough water two years ago and the Bell even fully loaded and with two 200 lb guys was still easy to control in the wind and waves – even with an inexperienced bow paddler.

Kansas City Paddler used to carry Souris River, but I guess that is still a couple of states away from you. We used the Q17s 3 years ago up north of Quetico and I was impressed with the well designed and very tough hulls. We actually had One adult and two scouts in those boats and they paddled with good speed and plenty of stability. I bet the Q 18.5 is a solid load mover.

Minnesota II is the ticket for you
For years i tripped in a 17’Spirit, sometimes with two Scouts and lot of Troop gear. The Minnesota II will handle your load. The only reservation i have is its mentioned low depth in the middle and stern. I have never seen anyone take on water in a Minnesota II, but it has less freeboard than the Spirit and i have been splashed into at times. The extra length of the MInnesota II gives it capacity, but test the Champlain agains the Minnesota II for its extra volume and see if its speed meets your requirement. It will be as fast as the Northwoods and have more volume and depth.

Your tween is a temporary passenger and a light one at that. Add your wife’s weight to the tween and if its less than 250# you should be fine. By the time the tween is too big to be a passenger in a Minnesota II, chances are the then ‘teen’ will want to be somewhere else. And for two people the Minnesota II is very hard to beat as a tripper.

The Odyssey was mentioned above, it would be my first choice if it were readily available. Same hull from the waterline down, more volume and depth above. Not as fast thru waves, but dryer.

The Souris River line got lots of attention from McWood several years ago, but he has not had good things to say about them for a while now. Problems with getting some parts, and he was a BIG fan of theirs. Even a Rolls-Royce is a poor buy when there is no dealer support. Mohawk is gone now because they went around their dealers and sold direct at pretty much dealer cost. So do you want to buy a canoe with no support? What good is a warranty without someone to honor it?

I have a Minnesota, and no load problems, but mine is a IV. Just a big beast to portage, not the weight, the 23’ thru the trees.

Take your crew and test paddle, and give yourselves enough time to get used to the feel of each model. And time yourselves over the same course when you make speed comparisons. Bell makes big claims about their speed and length to width ratio, but at all the races i attend the Minnesota II’s are in front of the few Bell’s that race. Racers will run what wins, and its not Bell in our end of the world.


To add another boat
Not trying to make the choice more difficult, but another boat you may want to consider is the Wenonah Champlain. A little more stable than the MNII( especially empty) but not quite as fast. Huge capacity, and deeper all the way through. Give your local dealer a call and see when they are doing a demo day, it’s the best way to decide which boat you want. That way you get to meet your local paddle professional, someone who is supporting paddling and the sport rather than just selling something out of a catalog.

Bell quality
I’d agree on the handling of the NorthWoods. Generally the Bell boats have a bit more rocker than the Wenonah boats. You may figure the less rocker the better on flatwater, but rarely do I paddle in no-wind situations. I like having that rocker to help me stay on course. I find it more efficient.

I’m surprised to hear about Bell’s quality declining. I’ve had the opposite impression. They updated their lamination process and are producing lighter boats and I haven’t seen or heard of any durability issues. Plus, I still haven’t seen a boat with nicer lines than a Bell. I’d say check out the boats for yourself and ask the opinion of people you respect. Sometimes rumors fly with no solid foundation!