New York : Safety by City
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- New York City
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Watertown, New York, is a military town in the North Country of New York.
It’s in the heart of the Western Adirondack and on the way to the 1000 Islands region at the Canadian border.
This charming town offers history and heritage along with a unique mix of shops and restaurants.
You’ll find plenty of hotels here for a town with 25,000 people.
The Black River runs through the city, offering walking trails and adventurous river rides when the water is warm.
Those trails transition to a winter wonderland in the snowy winters, so get ready for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
When comparing towns in this part of New York, you should know this is a more remote location smack dab in the middle of a lake-effect snow zone, which can pile snow up to several feet in a short period of time.
Watertown is a city and a town that border each other, but that’s more logistical than important for your trip planning.
Fort Drum is the nearby Army base, just 13 miles away.
Most of the people who live here are connected to the base.
To get in the mood for a trip here, listen to Frank Sinatra’s 1970 album Watertown.
There are many places named Watertown in America.
As you do research, be sure you’re at the one in New York.
It has a 315 area code, and zip codes include 13601 and 13603.
Warnings & Dangers in Watertown
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
Watertown is on the low end of a medium risk due to high crime rates that don't really seem to have a rhyme or reason. I'd rather over-exaggerate that risk but still tell you that the risk to a tourist is probably low. It seems most crimes happen among people who know each other, but I can't say that with 100% certainty.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
CitiBus is the local transportation system in Watertown. The routes and fare information is on the city's website, not a separate one. Taxis and rideshares are easy enough to find. Rental cars are another option. All come with a low risk, but you should be comfortable driving in snow if you're getting a rental car in the winter.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
Over the last five years, around 2-3 pickpockets or purse snatchings happened each year. In several cases, the theft value was more than $7,000. That suggests someone knows the valuables within a wallet. Statistically, the risk is low, but the overall theft rates are so high I would treat this as medium risk.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here, mostly due to winter. An average of 8–9 feet of snow falls each year, but 2022 saw almost 13 feet! Temperatures can also get dangerously cold. Spring can bring flooding from the melting snow, and thunderstorms can happen through fall. You definitely need to stay aware of the weather forecast here.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The robbery rate is about half the national average. This suggests that thieves are more likely to take things by a crime of opportunity rather than by force. The risk is low, but keep it that way by using street smarts and avoiding unfamiliar parts of town at night.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
With Fort Drum here, we have to say there's a medium risk. However, that risk comes with an immense amount of security that almost lowers the risk all over again. Aside from that, this area is too rural and remote to bring any additional terrorism concerns.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The risk is low, as most scams here target residents. If you think someone is offering a rental scam, please report it to the police. You can also check with the Jefferson County website to see a list of current scams.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
This is another low risk, but you should know wilderness, wildlife, and weather safety when visiting Watertown. Always stay in well-lit areas and try to avoid walking alone.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows almost full compliance. One violation was reported, but it was a brief violation that was quickly addressed. The risk is low overall, but always check with your hotel to see if there are any issues with the water when you arrive.
Safest Places to Visit in Watertown
VisitWatertown.com is the tourism site for the city.
There’s also a Visit1000islands.com if you’re headed that way.
This region is known as the North Country, but I’ve also seen it referred to as Upstate New York.
The North Country also includes the towns of Massena, Plattsburgh, and Lake Placid.
Downtown Watertown is known as Public Square, one of those charming town squares with a fountain and park in the middle and restaurants and shops lining the street.
As of this publication, the Jefferson County Historical Society museum is closed due to renovations.
That means new and exciting exhibits will be coming when it opens.
The Sci-Tech children’s museum was damaged in early 2023 from a flood in the basement.
Repairs are underway, so look for that to re-open in the future.
You can learn more at scitechcenter.org.
Historic Thompson Park is a large gathering place for the community with hiking trails that turn into skiing trails in the winter.
Great fall foliage driving routes are available here too.
Thomson Park is also home to Zoo New York.
It’s yet another area of growth for the city, as the zoo is doubling in size but will be open during construction.
You can take a regular zoo tour or get a guide to walk with you.
Plus, don’t miss the chance to feed a live elk (safely).
Exhibits include lynx, black bears, mountain lions, and wolves.
The Black River Trail is under the guidance of the state, so find more information on the New York Parks, Recreation, and Preservation website.
The trail is almost five miles long and follows the river most of the way.
It’s open year-round and makes a great snowshoe trail in the winter.
Places to Avoid in Watertown
The east side of Watertown has the highest crime rates, followed by the west side.
Staying in the city center, north side or south side provides the safest options.
Before you plan a trip here in winter, make sure you know what lake-effect snow is and how it can impact your vacation.
This snow falls in heavy bands, with fast accumulation and nearly blinding conditions.
If you haven’t experienced it before, it might catch you off guard.
As this is a military town, it’s best not to share your thoughts about the government, wars, politics, or anything else that’s a traditionally taboo topic for etiquette.
You also want to avoid making any jokes about threats, terrorism, or personal beliefs that could cause someone to report suspicious activity.
Much like you wouldn’t joke about a bomb at an airport, don’t joke about sensitive topics here.
The U.S. has seen too many attacks and threats to take “jokes” lightly.
You also can’t visit Fort Drum without going through a background check.
If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’ll need a sponsor to get on base.
Do not try to access the base without approval.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Watertown
- Watertown does have its own police department, but I can’t find a single social media site where they publish information. Email specific safety questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (315)786-2613.
- Sign up for weather alerts through NY Alerts. You can choose the location you want to get alerts from, and here you’ll choose Jefferson County, Watertown, or North Country, depending on which choices are offered.
- Overnight parking is banned between 2 a.m. through 6 a.m. from November 1 through April 30. This is to allow the snow plows to get through. If a big snowstorm is coming, you should park in a garage to avoid having piles of snow on your car.
- Throughout the year, parking is free on the street and in many parking lots. You can download a parking map from the city’s website. Always park under a streetlight or as close to the street as possible. Never leave a car unlocked or a window rolled down due to the high theft rates.
- Check the flow rates of the Black River if you plan to do any outdoor activities. In August 2023, levels were so high that outfitters had to reroute whitewater trips. The water was just too treacherous. The Jefferson County Emergency Management website has a list of great links.
- If you want to fish while you’re here, a license is required. You can get that on the New York Department of Environment Conservation website. While you’re there, check out the rules for hunting and boating. The license to do either one of those requires more safety training and additional steps.
- Black bears are found in this region, and you should review bear safety steps from the DEC as well. That includes carrying bear spray on your hip or backpack and always using bear-proof containers for food.
- Please follow all emergency messages during major weather events. If a blizzard warning is issued, stock up on everything you need and stay put. You not only put yourself at risk if you go out into the storm, but rescuers’ lives are on the line when they try to come help.
- Watertown might be a small town, but there are still enough people on the streets and roadways that pedestrians are hit by cars too often. If you are walking, be sure the drivers on the street see you standing there before you cross. Drivers – Put down any distractions and allow pedestrians to cross when they have the right of way.
- It’s not just all about snow here. In the summer of 2023, a heat advisory was issued for temperatures nearing triple digits. Many places here won’t have air conditioning, and the hot weather can cause dehydration, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion.
So... How Safe Is Watertown Really?
Watertown is a remote, snowy destination with great things around it but an unexplained high crime rate that doesn’t seem to be improving.
Even the police department is down to just 85% of its force.
The violent crime rate is 82% higher than the national average.
The theft rate is 157% higher!
On top of the higher crime rates, there’s no context given by police as to why.
The crime data doesn’t tell how many victims of violent crimes were strangers vs. those who know each other.
There’s no summary of crime statistics offered by the chief or mayor.
This is a huge military town, so the bulk of people you’ll meet are either active duty, contractors, or family members of either one of those two.
The places around Watertown offer a lot to do, like Thousand Islands and the West Adirondacks, but it’s also a place you go when you want to be secluded and remote.
Winter visitors better like snow because there’s a lot of it, and temperatures rarely get cold enough for it to melt.
You should be comfortable driving in snow and be able to get a four-wheel drive vehicle.
It’s hard to nail down the “really” part of the question, but there are better options if you want a snowy outdoor New York retreat.
If you need to be in Watertown, you’ll still find interesting things to do in space places.
Hopefully, you’re not just a little more prepared.
How Does Watertown Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a visa or visa waiver if you're eligible for the latter and a passport to get through customs and border patrol. The requirements are the same if you're crossing from Canada or flying into the country. To learn more about visiting Canada while you're here, check out the Canada Border Services Agency website.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Canadian dollars won't be accepted. Exchange your currency before you arrive in Watertown, or rely on credit cards for the best fraud protection. Most international airports will offer currency exchange services.
- Weather - Plan for a robust four seasons, but err on the side of over-packing winter clothing with snow accessories. The region gets almost 10 feet of snow each year. Summers will be hot and humid. You'll need bug spray and sunscreen. Always bring shoes or boots you can walk around in for long periods of time. You don't want to break in new hiking boots here.
- Airports - Watertown has the region's airport, just six miles from the city. You can get to New York or Philadelphia from here. This is an ideal choice as any other major airport would be a long drive. If you are flying in or out of Ottawa, Canada, that's a two-hour drive, but plan for delays at the crossing.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want travel insurance, especially if you're going between the two countries. Make sure you have protection against last-minute cancelations due to illness, weather delays, being stuck in a storm, or accidents and injuries during your trip.
Watertown Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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