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October 06, 2022 11 min read

Canoes for the Whole Family

Group of people canoeing

Canoes are the perfect way to not just get the family together but to get the family together outdoors in nature.

We all know how tricky it can be to find activities that the whole family will love. But, with canoeing, you really strike gold. It’s hard not to enjoy paddling down a slow-moving river or across a tree-lined lake, and as you’re all confined into one boat, it is the perfect bonding activity that toddlers, teenagers, adults, and even grandparents will love. 

Whether you’re looking to purchase your first canoe or if you’re looking for an upgrade, you’re in the right place. We’ve put together a list of 6 canoes that’ll help you determine the best family canoe to truly transform your future outings. 

What to Look Out for When Purchasing a Family Canoe

Group of people canoeing on a river

If you’re a total newbie in the canoeing world, then it’s helpful to know the things you should be looking out for when purchasing your first boat. 

Size

Size is probably one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider when buying a family canoe, as you obviously want the canoe to be big enough for all of your family members. Keep in mind, however, that small children don’t necessarily need their own seats like adults would, as most of the time, they end up on the floor anyway.

Canoes, like paddle boards and kayaks, come in a range of different lengths with different weight capacities. It’s important to remember that just because a canoe is wider and longer than another, it doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to have a higher weight capacity. When you purchase a canoe, you should pay close attention to the size and the amount of weight it can hold.

And finally, if finding a sizable canoe to fit your entire family wasn’t enough, you also need to think about the size when it comes to transporting and storing the boat. A canoe too big will be near enough impossible to store, carry, and transport, so it may be beneficial to opt for one that’s slightly more manageable.

Stability

Stability isn’t too much of a worry as canoes in themselves are fairly stable boats, but with that being said, there are some hull shapes that offer greater stability compared to others. If you plan on paddling your family through choppier waters, then rounded hulls with pointed bows are far easier to handle.

But, on the contrary, if you’re purchasing the canoe for leisurely summertime paddles, then you’ll want to find a boat with a flat bottom hull that’ll give you the most stability on calm, slow-moving waters.

Durability

No matter what you purchase, whether that be a canoe or an item of clothing, you want it to be of good quality. And as canoes are guaranteed to collide with debris in the water, then a boat made from polyethylene or aluminum would be your safest bet. 

Polyethylene and aluminum are extremely durable materials that can take a beating during all of your future family canoe trips.

GILI’s Top Picks: By Budget

Best Budget
Old town saranac, Red canoe
Old Town Saranac 160

If you’re after a budget family canoe, then the Old Town Saranac 160 with its high-backed seats, molded-in paddle rests, and its 6” dry hatch is a fantastic option for you.

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Best Mid Range
Lifetime kodiak canoe with paddles
Lifetime Kodiak Canoe

The Lifetime Kodiak Canoe takes our mid-range spot thanks to its patented skeg wheel, its compatibility with an electric motor, and the fact that the canoe seats are high-backed and adjustable.

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Best Premium
Sea eagle travel canoe, Inflatable canoe
Sea Eagle Travel Canoe 16

Not everyone has the room to store a 16-foot canoe, and Sea Eagle understood this. Their Travel Canoe is inflatable, giving it the ability to pack down so it can fit in the trunk of your car or in a small storage space. Sure it may be pricey, but you don’t need to worry about transportation issues you’d have with a hard-shell canoe.

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6 Canoes That’ll Fit the Whole Family

Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS

Sun dolphin mackinaw canoe, green

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

15’ x 42”

104 lbs

800 lbs

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The first of our best family canoes is the Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS, which can seat three people in its high-density polyethylene hull. In total, the Mackinaw SS can hold up to 800 lbs which is more than enough for two adults, a child, and any additional camping gear or personal belongings.

Sun Dolphin designed their recreational canoe to have a square back that perfectly fits electric trolling motors. This feature is handy because, let’s be honest, sometimes paddling can be a chore, especially if you’re paddling over long distances with a lot of weight on board, so having the option to add a motor really gives you the best of both worlds. 

Canoes can often be difficult to maneuver, steer and track. But Sun Dolphin tried and tested their Mackinaw SS to create a boat that is extremely easy to paddle through the water in a straight line. 

If you’ve ever had a canoe before, then you’ll know that they’re fairly simple boats that typically have little to no features or accessories inside their hulls. 

The Mackinaw SS, however, has a cooler storage compartment under the middle seat, paddle holders to securely fasten your paddles away when they aren’t in use, and drinks holders molded into each bench to remind you to stay hydrated throughout your family trips.

Specifications and Features

  • Seats three people
  • Made from polyethylene
  • Square back for electric trolling motors
  • Cooler storage compartment
  • Paddle holders
  • Drinks holders

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • With 800 lbs worth of weight capacity, you’d be able to pack two adults, potentially two children, and additional gear on board.
  • Sun Dolphin gave the Mackinaw SS a square back so paddlers can attach an electric trolling motor.
  • There is a center cooler storage area to keep drinks cold or to simply store away important belongings.
  • When your paddles aren’t in use, you can secure them in place with the paddle holders.
  • It’s not the lightest canoe on the market which may cause an issue in transportation. 

Old Town Discovery 169

Old town discovery 169, Red canoe

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

16’9” x 37”

91 lbs

1309 lbs

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If you’re after a canoe that can hold a tremendous amount of weight, then the Old Town Discovery 169 is the right canoe for you.

Although Old Town Canoes only gave the 169 a front and back nylon webbed seat, small children would still be able to perch themselves in the center of the boat without any issues. After all, the canoe is over 16 feet long, which is more than enough space for small families.

Old Town wanted their recreational paddling canoe to be as durable as possible, so constructed it out of three layers of polyethylene. Then on top of this, they added yoke and thwarts for both structural and carrying benefits, vinyl gunwales to protect the edges of the canoe, and comfortable carry handles to make getting the canoe to and from the water that little bit easier.

Specifications and Features

  • Seats two people
  • Made from polyethylene
  • Nylon webbed seats
  • Yoke and thwarts
  • Vinyl gunwales
  • Carry handles

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • The Discovery 169 is a stable canoe thanks to its 37” width. 
  • You would easily be able to fit two adults and two small children inside the boat.
  • Old Town gave the 169 a generous 1309 lbs weight capacity meaning you can take all the gear you need for your family canoe trip. 
  • The yoke and thwarts make it easier to carry the boat to and from the water.
  • The Discovery 169 is both long and heavy which may cause transportation issues.

Old Town Saranac 160

Old town saranac, Red canoe

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

16’ x 37”

89 lbs

761 lbs

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The second canoe from Old Town is the Saranac 160, which has front and back high-backed seats as well as a center bench that is ideal for smaller passengers. 

Old Town created their Saranac 160 to be a fishing canoe, so if you’re after a versatile canoe that you can take on a family fishing trip, then this may be a good option for you. 

Staying on the topic of fishing, the Saranac 160 features fishing rod holders in the center and front seat, storage trays to hold your important fishing tackle, and molded-in paddle rests so you can fish hands-free whenever you need. 

And as well as the Saranac's fishing features, the canoe also has a 6” dry hatch to store away your belongings, carry handles at the front and back end, and molded-in cup holders so you can stay hydrated for the entirety of your paddle.

Specifications and Features

  • Seats three people
  • Made from polyethylene
  • High-backed front and back seats
  • Rod holders
  • Storage trays
  • Molded-in paddle rests
  • 6” dry hatch
  • Carry handles
  • Molded-in cup holders

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • The seats of the Saranac 160 are extremely comfortable thanks to their high backs.
  • You can use this canoe as both a recreational or a fishing canoe. 
  • The 6” dry hatch will store away your important belongings that can’t get wet.
  • It’s the cheapest canoe on our list.
  • It has the lowest weight capacity of all the canoes we’ve mentioned today. 

Old Town Discovery 158

Old town discovery, Canoe camo

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

15’8” x 35.5”

87 lbs

1063 lbs

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The final Old Town canoe on our best canoe for families list is the Discovery 158. Although it shares a very similar name and construction to the Discovery 169, this canoe is actually a foot smaller, a few inches narrower, and it has a lower weight capacity. But, even though we say it has a lower weight capacity, it is still extremely generous at 1063 lbs. 

Like the Discovery 169, the 158 has front and back nylon webbed seats and was constructed from three layers of durable polyethylene. It also features an ash-carrying yoke and thwarts vinyl gunwales, and comfortable carry handles for easier transportation. 

So, yes, all in all, the 158 and the 169 are extremely similar, but if you’re looking for a slightly more manageable and slightly more affordable option, then you should consider the 158. 

Specifications and Features

  • Seats two people
  • Made from polyethylene
  • Nylon webbed seats
  • Yoke and thwarts
  • Vinyl gunwales
  • Carry handles

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • The 158 is more manageable and more affordable than the larger Discovery 169.
  • Even though there are only two seats, there is more than enough room for additional passengers in the middle.
  • You won’t have any trouble with weight limits at the 158 can hold over 1000 lbs.
  • The interior is extremely basic and the seats may be uncomfortable during long paddles. 

Sea Eagle Travel Canoe 16

Sea eagle travel canoe, Inflatable canoe

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

16’ x 38”

63 lbs

914 lbs

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Not everyone has 16 feet worth of storage space to house their canoe when it isn’t in use, and Sea Eagle has come to the rescue with an inflatable three-person canoe made from 1100 reinforced decitex that is welded together with drop stitching. 

This canoe which weighs only 63 lbs, can easily be deflated and packed into its included duffel bag for easy transportation and storage. The canoe, when deflated, measures 101 cm x 61 cm x 40 cm, which is small enough to be placed in the trunk of your car or stored away in a cupboard for the seasons so that you won’t be out paddling. 

Expedition canoes like this one are ideal for families who want a bit of versatility. The Travel Canoe by Sea Eagle can be paddled in waters up to Class IV, and thanks to its bow and stern molds, it is able to slice through the water at fast speeds. 

Some mentionable features of the Sea Eagle Travel Canoe are the two removable wooden and webbed seats, the removable tracking skeg, the front and rear spray skirts, and the six D-rings, which you can attach inflatable seats onto if you’d prefer a comfier configuration. 

Specifications and Features

  • Seats three people
  • Made from 1100 reinforced decitex
  • Suitable for up to Class IV whitewater
  • Three separate air chambers
  • Removable tracking skeg
  • Front and rear spray skirts
  • Six D-rings for additional accessories
  • Non-slip EVA foam deck pads

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • The Travel Canoe by Sea Eagle is the perfect solution for families with limited storage space. 
  • You can change out the wooden seats for inflatable high-backed seats if you’re in need of some extra comfort.
  • You can paddle the travel canoe in Class IV waters.
  • The front and back spray skirts prevent you from getting wet. 
  • The removable tracking skeg helps keep the canoe moving in a straight line.
  • It is the most expensive canoe on our list.

Lifetime Kodiak Canoe

Lifetime kodiak canoe with paddles

Dimensions Weight Capacity Check Price

13’ x 39”

96 lbs

600 lbs

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The Lifetime Kodiak Canoe may be the shortest canoe with the lowest weight capacity on our list, but nevertheless, it is still a good family canoe for those with young children. 

Lifetime constructed their Kodiak Canoe from high-density polyethylene that is UV protected and impact resistant. The company then also went a step further and gave the Kodiak tracking channels and a patented skeg wheel design that helps paddlers get the canoe to and from the water. 

On top of that, the Kodiak is also even compatible with an electric motor. All you need to do to attach a motor to the canoe is clip it onto the motor mount bracket at the back end of the boat, and you’re good to go. 

And finally, inside the boat, you’ll find two adjustable and removable high-backed seats, as well as a center bench that is perfect for young children to perch on. The seats also feature bottle holders and fishing rod holders, and included in the Kodiak package are two canoe paddles.

Specifications and Features

  • Seats three people
  • Made from polyethylene
  • Tracking channels
  • Patented skeg wheel
  • Compatible with an electric motor
  • Adjustable and removable high-backed seats
  • Bottle holders
  • Rod holders
  • Two paddles included

Pros & Cons

 PROS CONS
  • The Kodiak comes included with two paddles so you can get out on the water instantly. 
  • The 13-foot length is more manageable than the other canoes we’ve mentioned today.
  • You can attach a motor to the boat to improve performance.
  • Both the front and back seats are high-backed for enhanced comfort.
  • You can take this canoe out fishing as it has built-in rod holders.
  • The 39” wide deck makes it extremely stable.
  • It doesn’t have the highest weight capacity which may be a problem for paddlers with excess gear. 

FAQ’S

🏆 Do they make a 4-person canoe?

Canoes come in a range of sizes, from small two-person canoes all the way up to 18-seater canoes. And although you can get a canoe that is big enough to hold four people, many families would prefer to opt for two smaller canoes as they’re far easier to paddle and maneuver through the water. 

For more information about a canoe’s passenger limits head on over to How Many People Can Fit in a Canoe?


👍 What kind of canoe is the most stable for families?

Recreational canoes are the most suitable type of canoe for families because not only are they designed with beginner paddlers in mind, but they also feature wide decks that aid in overall stability. 

Families don’t prioritize speed or maneuverability, so they don’t need streamlined canoes that can slice through the water at fast speeds. Instead, the wider, more stable recreational canoes come out on top. 


🏝️ Can you fit 2 adults and 3 kids in a canoe?

When you’re trying to figure out how many people can fit in a canoe, the best thing to do is ignore the seating configuration and instead pay close attention to the amount of weight the canoe can carry.

Granted, if only adults will be paddling, then seats are important, but little kids are more than happy to stretch out in the center of the canoe on the floor. As long as your canoe has a weight limit that can hold you two adults and three children, then you’re good to go!

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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