This post was originally posted in July 2010. We have visited many times since then. Here’s a link to a more recent London post. In 2012, the State of California slated this park for closure due to budget cuts. But the Jack London Park Partners (JLPP) was established by Valley of the Moon Natural History Association (VMNHA) and has been admirable managed for the last several years. I have updated some information.
Normally, we wouldn’t try Jack London State Historic Park in summer. Situated up a mountain at the north end of the Sonoma Valley, it can be a toasty spot even in spring. But this has been a cool summer and we thought we’d chance it for a morning walk. It was grand.
Coming from a foggy Santa Rosa, we were glad to see blue sky and sun by the time we got to Glen Ellen. Up the hill from the small town and past oak woodlands and wineries at the end of London Ranch Road is the entrance to the State Park. We handed in our pass for the day and went off to the left.
This park has so much to offer, one needs to pay several visits just to see the main attractions. I’ve struggled with the level of detail to provide. Do you want detailed trail and tree info or do you want specific history about how one writer lived in the early 1900s?
Nature and Path:
It’s a 1.2 mile out and back to Wolf House. Paved uphill to Visitor Center in the House of Happy Walls; then down to right on mostly dirt path until creek crossing; left on service road; up, down, level, up to split; dirt path up and left to gravesite; gravel road right, up and down to Wolf House.
Mostly, under tree cover. One open meadow and possible scorching area at split and on road to Wolf House.
In July, the wildflowers are gone, but the Toyon bloomed white and the Manzanita had new red leaves. Other trees included Redwood, fir, Madrone, Black Oak and Buckeye (past its blooming prime.)
The quiet is something else here. You’ll hear more plane noise than any car noise in this park. It’s worth a visit just for the lack of noise. A few towhee serenaded me over the morning walk.
In this direction walking to the Londons’ gravesite and to Wolf House is the only route. Walking from the cottage and Beauty Ranch are many more miles of trail.
How one writer lived:
We first spotted the ruins of the Wolf House behind a ring of redwoods. The stone structure is all that remains from a fire. The house was almost ready for the Londons to move in, when it burned in 1913. A dream house that was supposed to be fireproof. Twenty-six rooms, 9 fireplaces, 4 story. 15,000 sq. ft. for $50,000.
Up a flight of stairs you can see a floorplan of this u-shaped house, around a reflection pool. Take your time to imagine what it must have been like.
Brief aside about trees: I remember that there was a view from here over the hills. I’m sure in London’s time there was more of a view.
We retraced our steps to the Visitors Center. The House of Happy Walls was Charmian London’s home from 1919 to her death in 1955. While the house displays many of Jack London’s books, their South Seas adventures sailing on their boat, the Snark, you also get the sense of an elegant woman.
I love the dining room the most (which also probably had more view when she lived here). Her clothes here and in the cottage have classic styling and impeccable embroidery detail. She was a modern woman who had thrown out the Victorian norm. She chose casual flowing costumes, a woman could wear today.
Another view of one writer’s life:
Next we went over to the path to Beauty Ranch. London’s original ranch was 1400 acres. Today the park has 756 acres.
It was a short puff up to a picnic area near one of London’s eucalyptus plantations. At the top of this rise, I could see some of the stone ranch buildings, vineyards and treed mountains in the background. This trail is part of the Bay Ridge Trail. So, yes, I have walked the Bay Ridge!
Past a cactus corral (London worked with Luther Burbank on some projects.) a wood frame cottage is off to the left. A few years ago, the restoration on this cottage was completed. Before that you could only walk around outside and wonder.
At the entrance is a room with displays and videos about life on the ranch. Beyond that there are several restored rooms, including guest room, Jack’s work room and sleeping porch and Charmian’s room and porch, where Jack died in 1916.
There’s a separate building with a large living area including dining and kitchen areas.
In back around a pond is a flower garden.
Past the cottage are several farm buildings, including the pig palace – London was a “scientific” rancher and tried a few experimental processes. The path continues past the vineyard and into the trees. It is uphill but not too strenuous. In ¾ mile is Jack’s Lake where the Londons and guests swam. We didn’t walk here today, having already walked to Wolf House.
This path leads to several more trails where one can get an 8 mile hike to Sonoma Mountain and over 9 miles on another trail. I’ve rarely gone past the Lake as the steepness increases. But I have no doubt it is magnificent.
Where I can get to, leaves me perfectly happy.
See you on the trail!
Photos by Mike Millar
Writers challenge: Jack London wrote 1000 words a day for 6 days a week. Can you? I do about 1000, “sort of edited” words a week. Once I did 50,000 in a month. (I’m still recovering.)
Jack London was one of the founders of the California Writers Club. I am a member of Redwood Writers Club, a local chapter. Click on the link to their fabulous site. Writers helping writers.
Wow, so much extra stuff.
Directions: Off Highway 12 near Glen Ellen turn west onto Arnold Drive (at the light). Near the market go uphill on London Ranch Rd. Follow to entrance at end of road.
Fees: $10 for car. Annual Pass or pre-purchased deals are good.
Activities: Check the website for information. Jack London State Historic Park.
Warnings: Mountain lion (I only saw much smaller scat.) Rattlesnakes. Poison Oak. Watch out for brushing against the grasses and bushes for ticks. Bring WATER.
Best parking lot: To the left for Visitor Center. Tree shaded picnic tables and views of mountains to the west.
Access galore: While most of the trails require serious hikes, there are accommodations to access most of the park’s historic buildings. Additional roads (with permission), golf cart rides and elevators.
Dogs: Now allowed to Wolf House, on leash. Not permitted in the museum or visitor center buildings.
Horses: Trailer parking near the Beauty Ranch area (to the right of the entrance). Most of these trails are open to horseback riding. In summer, there’s a concession offering horses to ride. (Though, I didn’t notice them on Sunday. Anybody know?) My son and sister road here years ago. There were horses at Sugarloaf too.
Bathroom: Visitor Center parking lot – flush toilet and cold water. Beauty Ranch lot has portapottie.
Food and Coffee: Several choices in Glen Ellen. After discussing cost cutting picnicking on Saturday, by Sunday there was no way we were not going to the Fig Café. It rewarded us, as usual, with great food and lively ambiance.