One weekend this spring a group of Paddling Magazine diehards planned to take a quick backcountry canoe trip to fly across the portage trails for a few days. Our ride for this ambitious 60-kilometer weekend route was the sleek and speedy Wenonah Minnesota II.
Wenonah Minnesota II Specs
Weight: 42 lbs
Material: Ultra-light with Kevlar
The Minnesota II is a racer at heart
Late to the put-in on Saturday morning, Geoff and I set off an hour behind our friends. We caught up in half the time, our Minnesota II easily outstripping the Prospectors our friends paddled.
Right away I could tell the Minnesota II is a design any glide-junkie will fall in love with. Shallower and narrower than the average tripper, the Minnesota II’s roots are in the Gene Jensen-designed Whitewater II, a go-fast downriver racer.
“There’s been many changes and improvements to the design since,” says Wenonah Canoe vice president Bill Kueper. The tweaks may have turned a race boat into a touring-friendly model, but paddlers can still feel Jensen in the Minnesota II’s minimal rocker, sharp lines and unbeatable cruising.
“Jensen was famous for his pursuit of tracking and efficiency,” adds Kueper, and we found the Minnesota II has stayed true to those straight-tracking and performance-focused dreams. With a standard bucket seat and foot brace for the stern the design favors a sit-and-switch stroke, but can be paddled any style. Since its release in 1987, the Minnesota II has become Wenonah’s second most popular design, falling in just behind the more newbie-friendly Spirit II.
An extra-strong Kevlar canoe
Despite tipping the scales at a mere 42 pounds in Wenonah’s Kevlar-based Ultra-light lay-up, the Minnesota II surprised me with its durability. After missing the portage in a maze of channels and with a burly rapid ahead, our group decided to bushwhack downriver.
Everyone wanted the airy Minnesota II for this trail-less portage—our friends’ repainted fiberglass canoes were easily twice the weight. By way of a game of rock-scissors-paper, Geoff won. While tramping up a steep slope a mat of moss gave way sending both paddler and canoe careening onto rocks below. Despite landing between a rock and 250-pound Geoff, the Minnesota II was no worse for wear, with just a couple surface scratches. It can certainly take abuse not normally associated with a lay-up termed Ultra-light.
Downstream and back again
Despite boasting exactly zero inches of rocker, the Minnesota II handled well in the straightforward class I and II rapids we ran, feeling more responsive than its 18.5-foot length should allow.
Paddling in mid-May in a high water year, as we headed back upstream we fought a slow but constant current. The Minnesota II dove ahead on line each time. When the river narrowed we dug in to grunt up swifts.
Get wild with the Wenonah Minnesota II
Minnesota II devotees include all types of paddlers. Some families purchase it for its gear hauling capacity and older paddlers love it for its light weight and efficiency. However, the Wenonah Minnesota II is truly at home in the Boundary Waters and Quetico, a workhorse for paddlers who favor its handling on big lakes and weight on lengthy portages. For anyone who dreams of weeks spent crossing the vast expanses of canoe country, I’m not sure you could find a more suitable design.
“It’s my boat of choice,” confides Wenonah’s Kueper. “It gets me as far away as quickly as possible. There’s no playing the cake-walk for campsites. I’m looking for pristine wilderness and solitude—this is a boat that facilitates that on water and on the portage.”