Black - 7. Watertown to Brownville

Black, New York, US


7. Watertown to Brownville (Black River Canyon)

Usual Difficulty III-V (varies with level)
Length 8 Miles

Paradise at Hole Brothers

Paradise at Hole Brothers
Photo by Harry A. Marinakis, M.D.

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-04260500 1000 - 6000 cfs IV 01h23m 3840 cfs (running)
The True Path keeps getting tighter and tighter as the water rises above 2500; at the higher end, most boaters will sneak Knife's Edge.

River Description

The classic summer run for New York that has play spots almost every day! 

Driving Directions

To putin: Take Interstate 81 North. Exit on Rte. 12-F, heading East toward Watertown.
Near the center of the town, take a Left at the lights onto City Center Drive.
Soon after that, hang a Left onto Whitewater Way.
Park at the parking lot there, and play at Hole Brothers.
(Or you can walk up to the rafting shop, head through the gate, put in there, and get one more rapid with a couple of play waves...and then play at Hole Bros.)

To takeout: Head out to Rte. 12-F, heading Right (back toward Rte. 81).
After about three miles or so, bang a Right onto Rte. 12-E, toward Brownville.
Cross the bridge, and grab the first Left. Park on the street. From the river, you'll see the takeout as a flatwater spot just after a large industrial plant on River Right.

Lat / Longitude data are verified by GPS.

Safety Warning and description of Knife's Edge Rapid

by Bridog, posted to the Northeast Paddlers' Massage Board:

Knife's Edge is the first significant rapid that you encounter as you paddle downriver from Hole Brothers. You will find it approximately 200 yards downstream from the Interstate-81 bridge. There are numerous eddies on both river left and river right, including a "last chance" eddy on river left right at the top of the drop.

The rapid is basically a shallow fast section with a bit of gradient, and 3 "ledges". Depending on water level, boaters will choose different lines.

High Water (>5000 cfs): You can run "Right-right-right" (river right side, all 3 drops. The last drop will have a large/powerful hole (Mary's Hole). Just hug the stone wall on river right and you'll have no problem. For more excitement start in the center and work right.

Medium Water (2000-5000 cfs): You can run "True Path" or "B-line Skate". Both routes start the same: Run the 1st drop either all the way left or at the "point" formed by the two diagonal ledges, or anywhere in between. At low levels, the point may be best because it won't be as scrapey. The 2nd ledge forms a wave/hole in river center. You'll want to sneak by it on the river-left side. Once past it, you can make a choice: Ferry over to the river right side and run the 3rd drop river-right of Mary's Hole (B line skate), or run True Path. To run True Path, you are essentially "threading the needle" between 2 hydraulics: The diagonal extending out from river left, and Mary's Hole in river center. It will look like there is a wide and easy pathway between the two, but that is where this pinning hazard is located. So you'll want to clip the corner (right side) of that diagonal coming out from the left (known as the Heater), or just miss it. Get too far river-right, and you potentially could get hurt.

You won't want to run all the way right (Right-right-right) at these medium levels - very scrapey over there.

Low water (<2000 cfs): There aren't a lot of choices, because there isn't a lot of water. You won't be able to run B-line skate, because there's no water over there. You can definitely run True Path, and you can even punch a pretty big piece of the Heater, because at low water, it isn't that burly of a hole (still powerful though, so T-up, and paddle like you mean it!). Another option at these lower flows is to run right over the "point" of the last ledge, essentially into the meat of Mary's Hole. That hole isn't so ugly at low water, and you can actually boof off that ledge and skip over the foam pile.


IMPORTANT: Downstream of the 3rd ledge-drop on the river left shore, there is a significant undercut. Known as "Shaw's Wall," this is a spot to avoid. If you have run True Path, you will be headed right for it, so make sure to either: (A) Catch the eddy on river left ABOVE Shaw's Wall, or to (B) paddle to the right aggressively to avoid that spot.

Sorry if that was long-winded, but I wanted to clear the air about that rapid - every single time I take a paddler down the Black for their first time, they are positively FREAKED out by Knife's Edge. It is a FUN rapid for a competent intermediate paddler that has good boat control. Try to run it with someone who knows it and can show you the lines, and don't get too worked up. Just recognize the hazards, most importantly this pinning hazard to the right of True Path (in the 3rd drop), and the undercut wall downstream. Beyond those 2, there isn't a lot there to really ruin your day.


Watertown Area Reaches:

Black River (Rt. 3 Wave)       Black River (Watertown to Brownville)      

Black Creek                            Deer River (Section 1)      

Deer River (Section 2)           Roaring Brook (Brokeback Gorge)   

Salmon River (Section 1)      Salmon River (Section 2)      

Sandy Creek                            South Sandy Creek (Section 1)      

South Sandy Creek (Section 2)             Mad River     

Mill Creek                                  Negro Brook


Google Map of New York Whitewater

New York Whitewater Paddlers Facebook Group

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-02-15 16:31:15


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Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0ARO PutinPutin Photo
0.2Hole BrothersIIIPutin Playspot Photo
1.8Knife EdgeIVHazard Photo
2.3Inner City StrifeIVAccess Playspot Photo
2.8Glen Park FallsIV+Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo Video
3.2Square RockIII
3.6Rocket Ride / Poop ChuteIIPhoto
4.1Shave And A HaircutIII

Rapid Descriptions

ARO Putin


Photo by Matt Muir (KHCC) taken 10/12/01 @ 2000 cfs

Paddlers can get a couple more bits of rapids by putting in at ARO, about a quarter of a mile upstream of Hole Bros. This requires climbing down a staircase. From this putin, you can paddle up to the waterfall (pictured).

Hole Brothers (Class III, Mile 0.2)

Back surfing on Hole Brothers

Back surfing on Hole Brothers
Photo of Shawn Duffy by unknown taken 08/03/06

This and Route 3 Wave are the two most famous Park-&-Play spots on the Black. Hole Brothers is best below 2000 cfs, but it can be played higher.

Knife Edge (Class IV, Mile 1.8)

Knifes Edge 6000 cfs

Knifes Edge 6000 cfs
Photo of one of boomers friends by Brad Roberts taken 10/04/99 @ 6000 CFS

This is the first rapid after the I-81 bridge; scout it left (or from the road on the right at high water).  The "True Path" is the usual line here; start center-left, avoid the first hole on the left, and power left to avoid the second hole (and Molly's Crack!) in the middle.

B-Line is run above 4500 Start Center, and then cut all the way right to the corner of the old factory.

Inner City Strife (Class IV, Mile 2.3)


Photo of Jim Dobbins by Ron Turney @ 15,000 CFS

This is a big-&-burly playspot when the Black is running really high (ca. 10,000 cfs or higher). Just downstream of Knife Edge, it is accessible by Rte. 12E, North of the river. Look for the big blue building (Torres Auto Repair); park on the road next to the river, head on out, and surf yer braims owwwt!

Update: Since spring 2011 ICS has not reappeared.  The wave behind ICS does come in above 20,000cfs.

Glen Park Falls (Class IV+, Mile 2.8)
Click Here For Video

Glen Park Falls

Glen Park Falls
Photo by Matt Muir (KHCC) taken 10/12/01 @ 2000 cfs

Lots of people walk this one, especially since it's changed since ca. 2001. A careful line is required for those who don't want to be munched by the hole. Portage right or run it left--your choice, dude.

Cruncher (Class III+, Mile 3.4)

Black, Si runs cruncher down the left

Black, Si runs cruncher down the left
Photo of Simon Wiles by Jon Bungard taken 12 Jun 04 @ 1800 cfs

One good line is to run center-to-right through a diagonal hole, catch the eddy, and then head into the middle through the mess to finish the rapid.

Rocket Ride / Poop Chute (Class II, Mile 3.6)

The Poop Chute

The Poop Chute
Photo of Matt LaFlair by Ratt Boy (KHCC;FLOW) taken 06/22/08 @ 1700 cfs

The Rocket Ride, a sloping drop across an old dam, covers most of the river. It's so scary, you'd better run it backwards. Be sure to run it to the left, rebar has appeared in the center and towards the right side.

The Poop Chute is a narrow and squirrelly line on the right. Try to run it upright, and don't get mashed up against the Wailing Wall below.

Shave And A Haircut (Class III, Mile 4.1)

Hidden by the horizon line, a diagonal hole pushes into a sharp under-cut shelf. Punch the shoulder on the right or get stuffed!

Takeout (Class N/A, Mile 4.8)

Just after the plant, take out on river right and climb up the hill with your boat to the cars, parked on the road in Brownville. Rafters take out at the dam, 2 miles of flatwater downstream in Dexter.

Another option is to climb up along the bridge on river left into the parking lot above.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 11 2009 (3512 days ago)
Dan CashDetails
I would say 1000cfs for a minimum isn't entirely true. The Black is runnable to levels far below
that. I don't think that a absolute bottom has been reached. Granted it's less challenging, but a
creative boater could find ways to amuse oneself.
August 13 2007 (4180 days ago)
David FulleDetails
The new Rochester paddler trend is to intentionally drop into Cruncher without paddling--in an
Oregon tuck position. Cruncher is a fun rapid and opens to a large pool so if you happen to swim
there should be plenty of people in the pool to help clean up your mess. It makes for a great show
for the rafters.

Associated Projects

  • Black River (NY)
    AW blocked the construction of a new dam on the Black and later settled for significant mitigation.

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