Review: Wenonah Canoes

Wenonah Canoe—Winona, MN
Rogue, Rendezvous

Kayak, schmayak! That’s been my mantra since the spring of 2000, when a friend and I ran the North Fork of the Shoshone in solo white-water canoes. The river was raging, and we tipped our boats and swam more than once that day—but I’d never had so much fun. Our canoes were longer and more stable than kayaks, and we enjoyed the higher perch. Not to mention that nobody we knew canoed white water—they were kayakers, one and all. We felt like riparian cowboys, riding our trusty steeds through uncharted country.

So don’t let the kayaking craze fool you—there’s more than one way to run a river. If you’ve got the gumption and nonconformist spirit to give white-water canoeing a try, I recommend Wenonah. They’ve been making downriver canoes for 35 years, and after testing their boats on several major rivers, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more durable, maneuverable, and well-built white-water canoe.

The Rogue ($1,095) is Wenonah’s 16-foot, 66-pound tandem model, suitable for fast rivers with lots of obstacles. While it does carry gear and maneuver fairly well on moderate rivers, this boat is designed for one thing: running rapids. We kept ours lean—float bags and thigh straps were our only accessories—and we were able to turn the Rogue on a dime. It’s made from Royalex, an extremely durable material, which meant we could take hits from submerged rocks without fear. And its deep hull design kept most of the spray out of the boat, which translated into fewer trips ashore to bail water. One thing to keep in mind, though: the Rogue’s fast water design means it’s not the best boat to use on lakes or big, slow rivers like the Missouri.

A bit more versatile, but just as adept in whitewater, is the Rendezvous ($845), Wenonah’s solo white-water craft. This 15 ½-foot canoe is a ton of fun. Both maneuverable and highly stable, it handles like a BMW—tight on the turns, smooth on the open road. I took the Rendezvous on every kind of water, from the Shoshone’s Class-III rapids to lazy, meandering stretches on the Jefferson, and it held up well in all conditions. Stripped down, it’s light and fast; loaded with three days worth of gear, it tracks well and remains stable. Just make sure to keep your load evenly dispersed—the Rendezvous’ deep hull design catches wind, and if one end is jutting skyward, you’ll be doing pirouettes all the way to the take-out.