Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Inkwells

The Inkwells are small, deep, dark pools beside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Lagunitas, West Marin. They aren't marked, but they're easy to find. When driving along Drake Boulevard, the Inkwells are just beyond where the houses stop and Samuel P. Taylor State Park begins. As you cross a bridge called Shafter Bridge, the Inkwells are directly on your right, underneath a reddish-colored bridge called the Inkwells Bridge. You walk down a crumbly path to the right of Inkwells Bridge to get to the beautiful, swimmable pools along Lagunitas Creek. There are two of them, one bigger than the other. There are rocks to jump off of and sun to bask in. It is the perfect place for a summer afternoon!

The San Geronimo Valley, including Lagunitas and Lagunitas creek where the Inkwells are, was largely uninhabited and untouched until the 19th century. In the 19th century railroad transportation made it easy to bring goods and passengers through the valley, thereby popularizing the gorgeous area.

From 1875 to 1935 the North Pacific Coast Railroad, then the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, operated trains from Sausalito to Pt. Reyes Station and then farther north to Cazadero in Sonoma. Originally the railroad transported lumber, dairy products, oysters, and other goods from the fertile lands of West Marin. Later the railroad began transporting passengers. The tracks went directly alongside the Lagunitas Creek, and the old railroad right-of-way can be found on the other side of the red-colored Inkwells Bridge from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. 

During the 1870's and 80's, tourists rode this train from San Francisco to a hotel resort and campgrounds in what is now Samuel P. Taylor State Park. 

In 1974 the county purchased the rail line from Lagunitas to Tocaloma for trail use. There are extensive trails all over the area, and the 2004 construction of the Inkwells Bridge provided a missing link in the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The Bay Area Ridge Trail is a 500-mile continuing trail that circles the Bay Area (sections already exist in the Headlands and on Big Rock Ridge). The bridge connects Kent Lake trails with the old railroad grade pathway that runs 8 miles through Samuel P. Taylor to Tocaloma Bridge Road. The Inkwells bridge provides hikers and bicyclists a safe way to explore the beautiful San Geronimo Valley away from street traffic.

The bridge also serves an important infrastructural purpose: it has two 36" water pipes that carry water from Kent Lake and the Nicasio Reservoir to the water treatment plant providing drinking water to north-central Marin.

Why I Love It
The Inkwells are the perfect compromise when it's a warm, sunny day and you NEED to go swimming and be outside, but you just can't bring yourself to schlep all the way to the beach. They are much closer and just as beautiful. To me, it's a joy that a rock formation and flowing stream can create such a beautiful and fun place. I spread my towel on the rocks, I watch other people laughing and screaming as they jump into the black water. Finally I muster up the courage to jump, too; I feel the refreshing chill of the water and hurry to climb out so I can feel the warm sun drying the beads of water that lace my skin. Sometimes there's a daredevil who jumps off the bridge overhead. It's about a twenty foot jump. I am shocked by their brazenness every time and think to myself how I could never do that! Maybe one day I will, but for now, the Inkwells are a sunlit chamber where people jump, swim, eat, laugh, play, and explore the creeks above and below the two deep pockets of midnight water.

From the San Rafael Transit Center:
Pick up the West Marin Stagecoach North Route 68
Stagecoach Schedule:
Get off at Lagunitas Road and walk West (the same direction you were going) along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard until you reach Shafter Bridge
There is a little dirt path to the right of the bridge; follow it to the beautiful Inkwells!



  1. Thank you so much Catie for posting this. I'm new to the area and since it's been getting warmer I've been wondering-where do people swim around here? The ocean is just too cold and I hate swimming pools with all that yucky toxic chlorine. I grew up near a lake in western New York and have always preferred natural water. And double thanks for posting exactly how to get there from Stage Coach-I also prefer not to drive cars. Very cool project, I will check out the rest of your sites in Marin as well.The sublimity of nature keeps me humble too.
    Jen P~San Rafael

  2. I lived at the ink wells for the summer of 1974 along with 4 other people and my dog. We camped upstream about 50 or so feet away from the ink wells. I revisited them last week with my two daughters. Time has been good to the area. I loved it there in 74 and just as much today. It's a great place to make memories.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. do you think its still ok to camp there upstream or downstream for the night?

  3. Catie,

    Super cool senior project. I have a question. Is the inkwell dog friendly? I would like to know since I always travel with my two pugs.


  4. This article is not totally right. The upper pond was known as Shafters like the bridge. It's because there was a railroad spur line there. Georges Log got washed away and along with the concrete platform that still remains int he creek held up the original trestle. My dad played on. My family as well as tyhe Mardens lived on the old railroad right aways. We actuall had two lots on the right of way. The lower pond (Hole) was called The Inkwell for it's deep dark alure into the abyss. At one time the hole was 20 feet deep Over the years the rocks ans such slid off the hill from up above turtle rock. This would fill up the hole along with the high water seasons that would drag rock. Back int he 60's I have seen the water go up and around the pillar on the north side of the creek. Once I saw the water so high it covered the sitting area on the south side. That water was so fierce it kept the hole under pressure sending rock over the little dam below the inkwell itself. The Weaver Family built most of the concrete diving spots and the original dam. They rented a water pump and pumped the water around the best they could to establish the damn on the upper swimming area known as Shafters. My father was born int he town in 1916 along with his 7 brothers ans sisters. My fathers 6 children all swam here and I used to dive for money from the pipe at age 9. I was the youngest member to ever leap from the pipe and that record will now never be broken because the pipe is gone. You now have the bridge and little pipe. I was 7 years old when I made that first jump I grew up here with some of the great rock and roll bands of our time Janis Joplin Big Brother Jefferson airplane New Ryders and several others came with Peace love Dope watermelons Three fingered lids and got naked. There was enough wool to knit yourself a winter sweater. I saw ever size shape and form of every man and woman. It would have been an artists dream come true . We did have some legal issues and had a lawyer who used to come get naked. Some of you may even remember Lee Brown. Great guy. There were no mean dogs back then just good dogs who loved playing in the water Go boy Get the frisbee. Some of you who came later in life will never know the experience because of the Valley committees who fucked it up. I will have my ashes spread here for all time when I go.Sign: The Lagunitas Kid

    1. thanks for this. enjoyed reading it.

    2. Thanks for sharing!! Planning to visit next week 😀

      Pacific islander.

  5. Catie, completely accurate or not, what matters is YOU were the one to take action and create a project about Marin's wonders, and it was a great decision to include the Inkwells. And it was also YOU that decided to put it on the internet. So, kudos to you my dear. Keep on doin what you're doin.

  6. Thanks for the post! I'm hoping to go this weekend, but curious if they're bone dry with this year's drought. Has anyone been recently?

    1. Laura! Did you end up going?! Swimmable? Bonde dry?

  7. So Laura, were the inkwells bone dry or not?