Whether you’re an experienced canoe camper looking to portage-wheel your canoe through rugged terrain, or a recreational paddler looking for a dolly to wheel your canoe from the parking lot to the water – canoe carts can be a lifesaver. Rather than trying to balance a heavy, bulky canoe on your shoulders, you’ll be able to leisurely wheel your craft right up to the water’s edge.
While some hardcore paddlers might scoff at the idea of using a canoe cart/dolly/wagon – there are a number of benefits that make them invaluable to many paddlers.
If your canoe is on the heavier side, portaging can put serious strain on your back and shoulders, and slow down your progress significantly. Canoe wheels take that heavy load off your back and put it on an easy to operate set of wheels.
I’ll break down some of the best canoe carts on the market, and explain what you need to know when choosing the right set of wheels for your canoe, kayak, or small boat.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Canoe Carts
- Best Overall: Seattle Sports Paddleboy ATC All-Terrain
- Runner Up: Railblaza Ctug Kayak or Canoe Trolley Cart
- Best Heavy Duty Cart: Wilderness Systems Heavy Duty Kayak Cart
- Compact Cart: The Kayak Cart KC-7
- Budget Pick: TMS CART-CANOE/KAYAK-KY001
Why do you need a canoe caddy
There are several scenarios where you might want to use a canoe cart.
First, if your put-in location is a significant distance from your vehicle or canoe storage location, then a set of wheels will make the trip from the parking lot to the water a breeze. This scenario doesn’t require the large, heavy-duty wheels needed to traverse fallen logs, rocks, and stumps. That’s why carts designed for this purpose often use smaller plastic wheels and more compact frames.
Second, using a set of wheels to portage your canoe between lakes makes the job much easier, and can save you a lot of effort and strain. The type of cart used for this typically features tall (12-inch or more) wheels, which can clear larger obstacles and rougher terrain. They also normally mount in the center of your canoe, increasing stability and making the canoe nearly weightless as you push or pull it.
Lastly, if you need to transport your craft over soft sand or mud, there are several carts with wide inflatable balloon tires specially built for traveling over sandy environments.
Best Overall: Seattle Sports Paddleboy ATC All-Terrain
This heavy-duty cart from Seattle Sports is the ideal solution when you need to transport your canoe through rough, craggy terrain. It’s 16” tall solid urethane tires are perfect for clearing all types of obstacles, and its heavy-duty steel frame can hold a load up to 300 pounds. The adjustable width frame is designed to mount to the center of canoes, kayaks, Jon boats, and other small watercraft.
The all-terrain cart is designed to traverse rugged paths that would cause difficulty to smaller carts. Its large wheels also work well on smooth flat surfaces, allowing you to travel faster. The added height provides a more natural height for pulling and pushing, so you won’t need to hunch over during transport.
The entire frame breaks down into a slim, low-profile package when you finish portaging and it’s time to stow the cart inside your canoe. It also comes with a durable spring-loaded kickstand, adjustable top pad bars, and straps for cinching the boat to the cart.
Unlike typical bicycle tires, the cart’s solid urethane tires never need to be pumped up, and won’t go flat if you run over sharp obstacles.
- Max load capacity: 300 lbs
- Weight: 16 lbs
- Heavy-duty powder-coated steel frame
- Large 16” bicycle style tires are ideal for clearing obstacles and rugged terrain
- Breaks down flat for low profile storage
- Natural height for pushing and pulling
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Runner Up: Railblaza Ctug Kayak or Canoe Trolley Cart
This compact, well-made cart is not only engineered to perfection, but it’s also a thing of beauty. The puncture-free molded rubber tires ensure you’ll never need to worry about a flat tire, while the composite polymer frame material will never corrode or rust. Fully adjustable C-Tug hull pads hug any shaped canoe or kayak hull – with soft rubber padding preventing accidental damage to the hull.
The cart requires no tools to put together and assembles/breaks down in less than 20 seconds. This is ideal for when you’ve reached the water and it’s time to jump in the canoe and paddle. Mounting the craft to the cart works well with the included single strap – and can be done either at the center or end of your craft.
Although it looks like it’s made from futuristic plastic and rubber, the load-bearing cross beam axle is actually made from reinforced stainless steel. An adjustable kickstand also comes included.
With 10” x 3.5” wheels, the cart’s design makes it ideal for use in a variety of conditions, from rocky trails to paved roads to sandy beaches.
- Max load capacity: 300 lbs
- Weight: 10 lbs
- Versatile 10-inch x 3.5-inch wheel size
- Durable and eye-catching molded polymer frame
- Assembles and breaks down in mere seconds
- Made in New Zealand
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Best Heavy Duty Cart: Wilderness Systems Heavy Duty Kayak Cart
Durable, sturdy, and built like a tank, this cart is engineered to handle the heaviest fully-loaded kayaks and canoes out there. Featuring a whopping 450-pound maximum load capacity, this cart is capable of hauling a fully loaded camping canoe, or even several kayaks stacked on top of each other.
The bunker bar frame design allows you to adjust the width of the crossbars – up to a maximum width of 16 inches – allowing you to precisely fit different canoe and kayak widths. In addition to the adjustable frame width, the frame height can be changed between a low and high setting. The high setting allows you to fit oddly shaped hulls, and the low setting gives you a lower center of gravity to prevent tip-overs.
The frame is made from marine-grade, heat-treated aluminum alloy, providing a rock-solid mount. 12-inch x 3.5-inch no-flat wheels provide smooth rolling over both rough and smooth terrain. Large balloon style wheels (available here) for wheeling on sandy beaches can also be attached to the frame.
The entire cart breaks down easily for storage inside a canoe hull or a kayak dry well. No kickstand comes included, but the frame will hold your craft in place when the bow or stern is rested on the ground.
- Max load capacity: 450 lbs
- Weight: 15 lbs
- Heavy-duty aluminum frame
- Versatile 12.5” x 3.5” no-flat wheels
- Adjustable frame width and height
- Completely collapsible for compact stowage
Compact Cart: The Kayak Cart KC-7
If you’re looking for a lightweight, compact set of wheels that’s small enough to stash just about anywhere, then this ultra-portable cart makes an excellent choice. It works well with a variety of hull shapes, using a flexible cradle and dual straps to lock your craft in place. The 7” no-flat rubber wheels are ideal for use on smoother terrain, so don’t expect to use this as an off-road portage cart.
The entire cart weighs just less than 3 pounds, making it one of the lightest kayak and canoe carts on the market. It has a maximum weight capacity of 110 pounds, making it well suited to transport most light to medium canoes. Setting up the cart takes mere minutes – simply slide the bow or stern into the flexible cradle and secure with the built-in straps.
The entire cart collapses in seconds with the quick-release wheel pins. When it’s collapsed, the cart will fit nearly anywhere, making it a great choice for paddlers that like to pack light.
Keep in mind this cart is meant for transporting your canoe from your vehicle to the water. Its bow/stern mount is not ideal for rugged off-road trails – for that, you’ll need a larger center-mounted cart.
- Max load capacity: 110 lbs
- Weight: 85 lbs
- Ultra-portable, lightweight cart is ideal for getting canoe to put in spot.
- 7” rubber wheels
- Flexible cradle attaches to a wide variety of hull shapes
- Made in the USA
Budget Pick: TMS CART-CANOE/KAYAK-KY001
If you’re looking for a well-made canoe cart without breaking the bank, then this sturdy aluminum and stainless steel cart makes a great choice. It’s large 9.5-inch x 3.5-inch no-flat tires work well for a variety of conditions – from gravel to pavement to sand. The foam-padded cradle arms can accommodate a wide variety of canoe and kayak hull shapes, while the 12-foot long tie-down strap securely fastens your craft in place.
Mounting to the hull can be done at either the center or near the bow or stern of your canoe. The dolly breaks down into a fairly compact package, although it’s still a bit bulkier than more expensive models.
With a max load capacity of 150 pounds, the cart can handle the vast majority of canoes and kayaks out there. The two-point support stand/kickstand keeps the cart propped up onshore when you’re loading or unloading your craft at the water.
- Max load capacity: 150 lbs
- Weight: 8 lbs
- Well-made aluminum and stainless steel frame
- Large 9.5” x 3.5” no-flat tires
- Two-point support stand for easy loading and unloading
How to pick the right cart for your canoe
Canoe carts vary widely in terms of design, functionality, and load capacity. The right canoe cart for you will depend on your specific needs, the portage conditions, as well as the weight of your fully-loaded watercraft. Let’s dive into some of the important features to consider before pulling the trigger on a new canoe dolly.
The right canoe cart will depend on the type of portage trails you plan on tackling.
If you’re looking at rocky, mucky trails with tree roots, fallen logs, boulder tips, and other difficult obstacles, then you’ll want to go with a large wheeled cart with plenty of clearance. Carts with bicycle tires will work well for this sort of trek. These carts are a bit larger than other types but also work brilliantly on flat smooth terrain.
On the other hand, if you need to wheel your canoe through soft sand or mud, then carts with wide balloon tires are ideal. These tires are typically extra wide, providing more surface area and preventing the cart from sinking into the sand.
If you’re looking for a cart to transport your craft short distances – like from your roof rack to the water – then any decent cart will do the trick.
Stowability refers to the size of the cart as well as the ease of breaking down and stowing the cart inside your craft. A lightweight, compact cart will take up less space, and be easier to fit inside your canoe or kayak. If you’re already hauling several canoe paddles, fishing gear, dry bags, and camping gear, you’ll want to look for a cart that breaks down into a compact package.
Small and compact canoe carts are generally less durable and hold less weight, so you’ll need to balance stowability with these other features.
Load capacity refers to the maximum amount of weight the cart can hold. This is an important consideration for paddlers who need to haul large fully-loaded canoes with trolling motors or heavy pedal drive kayaks. Always take the manufacturer’s stated max load capacity with a grain of salt, especially when you’re planning on traversing rough terrain.
When it comes to durability, you’ll generally get what you pay for. More expensive canoe carts will feature higher quality components such as marine-grade aluminum frames, durable kickstands, high load capacities, and other key features.