Waterfalls and swimming holes: the natural pools of Marin County

Marin County is well known for its breathtaking hiking trails and national parks, but many people are oblivious to the waterfalls conveniently located nearby. Although waterfalls and swimming holes seem hidden, most of them are easy to access. Due to the recent rain this winter, waterfalls and swimming holes have been replenished with water, so get ready to gush over these astonishing spots!

Cascade Falls 4/5

Cascade Falls, Mill Valley

Cascade Falls, Mill Valley

Cascade Falls is located in Cascade Canyon below Mt. Tam, and is only five minutes away from Old Mill Park. From downtown Mill Valley, the walk to the waterfall is 1.5 miles each way, but can be easily accessed by driving up Cascade Drive. The stroll from downtown to the waterfall is the perfect blend of city life and nature. There are shops and cafes to walk through first, and then towering Redwood trees. There are stunning homes along the walk and mossy wooden bridges running over a long creek. When arriving at Cascade Falls, a wooden sign directs hikers up a short path, leading to the waterfall. Due to recent rain, the waterfall is rushing with water, and is so loud that it’s heard before seen. The size of the waterfall is quite  tall, and reminded me of a waterfall you’d see in an exotic jungle because it’s concealed in the abundant vegetation. The waterfall is only a two minute walk from the parking lot by the trailhead, so it’s easily accessible to all levels of hikers. Since this waterfall is rushing with water, it produces gorgeous photo opportunities. Luckily, there are large rocks close to the waterfall that can be stepped on, so photography of the falls and observing can be done up close. The only downside is that the trail was a bit slippery due to rain, but the breathtaking waterfall at the end made it worth the danger. Although Cascade Falls does not have a swimming area, I would definitely visit again because it’s a stunning spot to go with friends or family after an easy stroll through downtown Mill Valley.

Three Wells 3.5/5

Three Wells, Mill Valley

Three Wells, Mill Valley

Consisting of three water wells for swimming, Three Wells is only steps from Cascade Falls in Mill Valley. The Three Wells swimming hole and the vegetation around it have been unchanged for centuries, and has been a popular gathering place for groups of friends. Like Cascade Falls, the hiking distance is suitable for all levels of hikers. Right next to the small parking lot, there is a short five minute downhill path that leads to the water. For visitors who want a more rigorous hike, the path can be continued all the way to downtown. Similar to Cascade Falls, there are tall trees and a short wooden bridge crossing the water beneath. The atmosphere feels like a hidden forest because it is tucked away and secluded from Mill Valley’s city life. The swimming hole itself isn’t as large and deep as I expected. Below the wells of water, there is a small section of open space for taking a dip. Three Wells is a fun place to go for a quick swim after hiking, but definitely not spacious enough for lap swimmers. The special thing about this swimming hole is that the first well forms a natural water slide because of its slippery moss. This is pleasurable to zip down and drop into the water below. Even though the weather was cold and rainy when I went, there were still two people in the water swimming. They said the water felt like it was 40 degrees, but was still refreshing. All in all, I anticipated Three Wells to be more spacious and inviting, so it wasn’t everything I expected it to be. Although Three Wells wasn’t everything I hoped, it’s a very convenient place to stop by after visiting the waterfall next door.

The Inkwells Lagunitas

The Inkwells, Lagunitas

Inkwells 4.5/5

I’ve always heard tales of Inkwells from fellow Redwood students, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to experience the beauty it has to offer. Since being discovered by locals in the 1800s, Inkwells has been a popular swimming spot. The Inkwells is located in Lagunitas, east of Samuel P. Taylor Park. The longest drive from Redwood High School, Inkwells takes about 30 minutes to get to and seems to lie completely isolated in the wilderness. Although the drive is long, the journey is stunning and has lots of unique farm stands along the road. I enjoyed viewing the luscious green hills and the grazing animals. Although the Inkwells are not marked upon arrival, they are easy to spot. There is a long red bridge on the side of the road, and right underneath is the water. Parking is free, and right next to the lot there are a series of trails that are easy to access. I was surprised by how open and spacious Inkwells was in comparison to Three Wells. There is much more room for swimming and deep water for jumping into. Some popular spots to jump in from are the rocks along the sides of the water and the bridge above. The bridge is much higher up than the rocks, so those who love thrilling heights are in for a treat. The water is also much clearer than Three Wells, and has a gorgeous blue tint. Inkwells has both small water wells, and larger ones that provide for the ultimate swimming experience. Since there has been so much rain this winter, the Inkwells are also pouring with a series of cascades. The crisp and clear splashing water of the falls are mesmerizing to view. Although the water is pristine, Inkwells seems to lack a forest feel like the other spots I visited. However, I did find a few butterflies and banana slugs on the rocks. Overall, Inkwells is a unique alternative to the traditional public swimming pools and waterparks students go to over the summer. Inkwells includes riveting jumps from towering heights that will leave visitors yearning for more. I was pleased with what the Inkwells had to offer, but I would recommend making Inkwells an all-day trip, or perhaps a pit stop on the way to Point Reyes or Tomales Bay because of the lengthy drive.

Natalie Coffin Park Ross Valley

Natalie Coffin Park, Ross Valley

Natalie Coffin Park 2/5

Natalie Coffin Park in Ross Valley is a well-known hiking and biking spot in Marin, but many people forget the swimming area it provides. When I was little, I used to dip in and out of the pond all the time, and from the recent rainfall, it is now surging with water. Below Phoenix Lake, the water at the park is known as Ross Creek, and pours into the swimming area continuously. Natalie Coffin Park is very spacious and is filled with picnic tables and benches to view the wildlife, such as deer and butterflies. The park has something for everyone, and is often used for running and walking to Phoenix Lake. About a minute from the parking lot and through the park’s entrance, lies a small bridge with two areas of easily accessible running water. Right next door to the water is the main path that guides hikers to Phoenix Lake. The water itself is not very deep and definitely not made for jumping into, but there is a good amount of room to swim around. The scenery and serenity makes up for the water quality since the swimming area isn’t overly populated. It’s a convenient place for families with little kids because the water is both shallow and easy to access, and also not crowded with people. I advise visiting the swimming area after hiking, or having lunch on one of the park’s tables that overlook the water. The atmosphere around the water is peaceful, but I would not suggest visiting the park solely for the swimming because the quality of the water is disappointing. The water is both murky and dull colored in areas, which is displeasing for swimmers. I would much rather take the long-lasting drive to Inkwells in order to get a more enjoyable swimming experience.   

Accessible Swimming

  • Three Wells
  • Inkwells
  • Natalie Coffin Park

Drive of 15 minutes or less from Redwood

  • Cascade Falls
  • Three Wells
  • Natalie Coffin Park

Easy for all levels of hikers

  • Cascade Falls
  • Three Wells
  • Inkwells
  • Natalie Coffin Park

Non-populated quiet atmosphere

  • Cascade Falls
  • Three Wells
  • Natalie Coffin Park

Highly Recommended

  • Inkwells
  • Cascade Falls
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