The 10 Best Lake and River Canoes of 2023

We found top picks from brands like Old Town and Pelican

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TRIPSAVVY-best-lake-and-river-canoes

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

Canoes sometimes get criticized for their seemingly willful ability to tip. But today’s canoes have flipped that script. Inspired by classic designs, newer models rely on modestly curved hulls, wider and flatter bottoms, and sharper bows to make paddling a breeze in everything from a still lake to a whitewater-choked river to the Charles River. The right canoe depends on your budget—prices start around $400—the type of watercraft and the materials used. Whether you’re looking for a quick jaunt or a week-long expedition, we’ve got you covered.

Best Overall

Old Town Saranac 160

Old Town Saranac 160

Paddleva

Large enough to accommodate up to three paddlers or a tandem team looking to take gear for an overnight, the Saranac 160 from Old Town comes with features that will resonate with all types of canoeing. Molded-in rod holders at the bow seat and center will appeal to anglers. The ample storage options (including under the center bench seat) create plenty of space for longer expeditions, while families and dog owners will appreciate the ample open-top access for day tripping.

The canoe features two contoured seats with backs, carrying handles at the bow and stern, cup holders, paddle rests, and storage trays. The single-layer thermoformed polyethylene construction has proven plenty durable. And a moderate rocker provides a bit of lift without sacrificing any tracking for smooth, confident paddling. It isn’t the boat you’d want to handle class-IV rapids, but for most recreational paddlers, it’s hard to beat the Saranac 160.

Size: 16 feet long, 37 inches wide | Capacity: 850 pounds | Number of Seats: 2+

Best Buy

Lifetime Wasatch 130 Canoe

Lifetime Wasatch 130 Canoe

Dick's Sporting Goods

At 13 feet in length, the Emotion Wasatch leans toward one of the smaller three-person canoes available. But that modest size affords a great deal of paddling agility and control while a tracking scag anchored to the under seam assures straight paddling. Movement is further eased thanks to its sharp bow, while a wider flat-bottom hull provides stability.

The two main seats come with adjustable CRS seatbacks, positioned close to two molded cup holders and two combo cup or fishing rod holders. This versatile canoe can also be outfitted with an electric motor (with a thrusting rate of up to 40 pounds) thanks to an included motor mount bracket. Storage is slightly limited compared to larger boats but includes two rear “ditty” trays for smaller items. And transporting the Wasatch is a breeze as the canoe comes with a skeg wheel and two luggage-style handles.

Size: 13 feet long, 39 inches wide | Capacity: 600 pounds | Number of Seats: 3

Best for Fishing

Esquif Rangeley 15

Esquif Rangeley 15

Esquif 

Sleek in appearance, the Esquif Rangeley 15 has proven to be a very easy-to-navigate boat to help anglers find their sweet spot, even in tall grass. A 51-inch-wide mid-ship provides stability for confident casting and plenty of storage options. Opt for the rugged vinyl gunwales over the traditional wood trim, and you can easily mount rod holders, a GPS, and other fishing-centric accessories. Three webbed seats breathe well and let the water drain, while a square stern is constructed to accommodate a five-horsepower motor. The boat is made of T-Formex, a high-tech laminated material built around an ABS foam core with ABS sheets. An outer plastic skin is abrasion-resistant and can retain its shape upon impact with minimal distortion. Skid plates further reinforce durability. And at only 105 pounds, the boat is relatively easy to maneuver in and out of the water.

Size: 15 feet long, 51 inches wide | Capacity: 527 pounds | Number of Seats: 3

Best One-Person

Nova Craft Fox 14′ Solo

Nova Craft Fox 14′ Solo

Nova Craft

Whether you’re looking for a solo adventure on a calm lake or a longer river expedition with up-to-class-I rapids, the Fox 14-Foot Canoe from Nova Craft abides. A rear seating position affords standard and kayak-style double paddles, with a slight tumblehome that makes for easier paddle strokes. This narrow vessel moves fast and efficiently. A shallow depth helps avoid catching wind. And a shallow arch bottom and minimal rocker provide stability while accommodating Canadian-style boat leaning for added momentum.

The symmetrical hull proves plenty agile, and ample storage spaces make it easy to haul overnight gear. The boat comes in five different models, depending on your desired construction material, which ranges from fiberglass and steel to the brand’s TuffStuff Expedition material, which will stand up to serious abuse. But even if you go with the heaviest—fiberglass—the boat only weighs 50 pounds (and drops to 34 pounds if you opt for their proprietary Aramid Lite material), making it easy for one person to portage and get in and out of the water.

Size: 14 feet long, 32 inches wide | Capacity: 550 pounds | Number of Seats: 1

Best Two-Person

Old Town Guide 147

Old Town Guide 147

Sherper's

The durable and stiff Old Town Guide 147 canoe is a rugged option for tandem paddlers looking to ply lakes and calmer rivers. Stability is boosted thanks to a unique cross-section and stabilizing chines. A sharp entry point makes paddling efficient and agile. Two comfortable, contoured seats with adjustable backrests at the stern and bow and black vinyl gunwales are ready for mounting accessories like a rod or cup holder. Crafted of three-layer polyethylene, the Guide 147 can handle impacts against rocks and wood debris. Carrying handles make maneuvering the 82-pound boat in and out of the water easy.

Size: 14.5 feet long, 38 inches wide | Capacity: 900 pounds | Number of Seats: 2

Best Three-Person

Pelican Dakota 15.5'

Pelican Dakota 15.5'

Academy

Hitting the sweet spot between tracking and maneuverability, the Pelican 15.5 is a dream to paddle, whether going solo or when all three of its molded bench seats are filled—just ensure you have the optimal seating arrangement. The proprietary RAM-X construction is durable, and the aluminum gunnels have protective sleeves to withstand the elements better. It also comes with three vertical rod holders and carrying handles, but at 81 pounds, it’s best to convince one of your fellow paddlers to help during portages. A modest rocker keeps things moving while the narrow hull and sharp stern easily slice through currents.

Size: 15.5 feet, 37.5 inches wide | Capacity: 800 pounds | Number of Seats: 3

Best for Rivers

Nova Craft Prospector 16’

Nova Craft Prospector 16’

Paddleva

Nova Craft has made some of the industry’s best canoes since 1984. But with their Prospector 16’ vessel, they took guidance from the century-long heritage of Canadian canoeing to create this instant-classic river-ready boat. A shallow arch hull provides self-righting to deliver a stable paddling experience, and the boat is ready to haul a week’s-worth of gear thanks to its 1,000-pound carrying capacity. Another essential when navigating river whitewater, it rides high to help keep water out while assuring you stay inside. And you can also outfit the Prospector 16’ with a fabric upper deck to really seal out the elements.

Naturally, the canoe also works well on lakes—and is ideal for a longer, overnight exploration of more remote bodies of water. It can even be paddled solo with ease. As with all Nova Craft canoes, you can choose from five different materials, including fiberglass, blue steel, and three proprietary options like TuffStuff Expedition, an excellent choice for extended wilderness trips. Boat weights range from 48 pounds (blue steel) to 66 pounds (fiberglass).

Size: 16 feet, 36 inches wide | Capacity: 1,000 pounds | Number of Seats: 2

Best Inflatable

Sevylor Madison Kit Inflatable Kayak

Sevylor Madison Kit Inflatable Kayak

OutdoorsXL

Sevylor's Madison Canoe Kit is a solid choice if you prize portability and small storage above all other canoe elements. This two-person inflatable vessel is constructed of Sevy-Strong Tarpaulin, a heavy-duty material that's robust, lightweight, and water-resistant to prevent any leakage or serious damage. Front and rear spray decks help keep out water, and a removable fin and a welded directional strake provide solid tracking and agile movement.

Sevylor even provides you with "Seatography," a floor guide to help configure your fabric seats for the greatest comfort and performance, including the ability to swap out one of the taller-backed seats if you're going it solo. The whole package collapses into the included carrying bag, which has generously sized shoulder straps to make it easier to lug everything into the water. The kit consists of an easy-inflation manometer to help you monitor the PSI levels as you inflate, a repair kit, two paddles, and a foot pump.

Size: 129 in long, 37 in wide | Capacity: 440 pounds | Number of Seats: 2

Best for Lakes

Sun Dolphin Scout SS

Sun Dolphin Scout SS

Sun Dolphin  

Rivers can mean whitewater, which can be daunting to some paddlers—especially if their boat isn’t river-ready. But if you plan on exploring calmer lakes, you thankfully don’t need to consider those factors. Instead, opt for a lake-ready boat like the Scout SS from Sun Dolphin. This squared-stern vessel was designed to work with electric trolling motors of up to two horsepower, but it still steers and maneuvers like a regular canoe, and naturally, you can also use paddles. Built-in rod holders make using the Scout SS for fishing easy, and three comfortably molded-in seats aid in the boat’s overall flotation. This wide, stable craft tracks well, and the UV-stabilized high-density polyethylene materials are durable. It weighs a fairly manageable 84 pounds.

Size: 14 feet long, 38 inches wide | Capacity: 765 pounds | Number of Seats: 3

Best for Beginners

Lifetime Kodiak 130

Lifetime Kodiak 130

Walmart

The Kodiak 130 from Lifetime comes with two paddles, making it easy to get the boat on the water immediately. The hull architecture defies the “tippy canoe” stereotypes, making it great for first-timers. But the Kodiak still delivers dependable performance via tracking channels and a skeg wheel so that it moves true and doesn’t take unexpected guidance from currents or the wind. The boat is also rated to accommodate electric motors with a max thrusting rate of 40 pounds. Made of UV-protected molded high-density polyethylene, the durable boat features molded-in cup holders and luggage-style handles for easy transport.

Size: 13 feet long, 39 inches wide | Capacity: 600 pounds | Number of Seats: 3

What to Look for in a Canoe

Price

On average, expect to spend at least $400 for the latest canoe models. But prices can exceed $1,000 if you’re looking for a craft with more storage, better durability, larger weight-carrying capacity, and other features. Note that most canoes do not come with paddles, so expect some additional expenses.

Materials

Canoes can be made of a variety of materials—everything from wood to aluminum, molded plastic (which can be repaired), fiberglass, or various synthetic fiber materials made with proprietary technologies by canoe manufacturers. The material of a canoe dictates two general elements of the watercraft: its weight and durability. Go with a lighter craft if you want to ease your paddling and if portability is important. Those planning longer wilderness paddling and river running should consider a more durable canoe. Stiffness also should be taken into account. Fiberglass, for example, is extra-stiff, which improves the canoe’s ability to glide through the water more efficiently.

Type

Generally, canoes break out into those suitable for rivers with up to class-IV rapids (think narrower designs with streamlined hulls) and those suitable for lakes, which don’t have to contend with whitewater. Many canoes split the difference, offering a multi-purpose option at home on lakes but can also handle class-II rapids. Expedition-style kayaks, meanwhile, are crafted to let you haul a week’s worth of gear with plenty of lash points and a higher weight-carrying capacity. Some canoes also come outfitted with molded-in fishing rod holders—a nice feature for anglers. And inflatable canoes provide all the joys of boating with the added convenience of easy storage and transport.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How long should my canoe be?

    The longer the canoe, the better it tracks in the water, making it easier to generate speed and maintain momentum over longer distances. But shorter canoes are easier to control and prove more agile than longer crafts. They also track well against elements like currents, the wind, or rapids. Boats between 16 and 17 feet are most popular, though some that measure around 13.5 to 14 feet also work really well.

  • What about width?

    The wider the canoe, the more stable it will be. Meanwhile, narrower boats make paddling and controlling the boat more efficient. First-time paddlers should consider a boat with a wider-than-average width, while those with more paddling skills can benefit from narrower profiles. River-specific canoes are also often narrower than multi-purpose or lake-specific boats to help them navigate through rapids and competing currents.

  • What weight considerations should I take into account?

    Canoes have two weight measurements to consider: their capacity and the actual weight of the canoe. For the latter, consider how you’re going to get the boat in and out of the water—and whether or not you’ll need to portage the canoe over obstacles. Also, take into account how many people can help carry the boat or get it onto a roof rack. The carrying capacity is also measured in pounds and refers to the max weight the boat can haul. This varies considerably by canoe, but at a minimum make sure the boat’s capacity will accommodate the weight of all paddlers and passengers as well as extras like a cooler and other day-tripping accessories. If you’re looking for overnight expeditions (or longer), go with a higher weight capacity so you can carry your camping kit confidently.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Nathan Borchelt has written, rated, and reviewed outdoor- and travel-related products for decades. When researching the selections in this round-up, retail experts, pro paddlers, and amateur boaters were consulted, as were detailed profiles of the products written by seasoned experts and verified customers.

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