After weeks of lockdown, my husband and I were eager to get moving again and enjoy a change of scenery. The Sonoma County Jack London State Park caught our attention. Many trails close to San Francisco, such as those on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, are super crowded on weekends, so we looked north to find new places and new trails.
We laced up our hiking boots, filled our water bottles and bought sandwiches on our way out of Tiburon. Our drive took us an hour north through the green hills of Marin and Sonoma to Jack London State Park located in Glen Ellen.
Blending the captivating history of Jack London, one of the most prolific and popular authors of his time, with the calm of nature, Jack London State Park offers more than 29 miles of back-country trails. Hikers and mountain bikers roam the pristine hills and grassy meadows, blanketed in the spring months with orange California poppies and purple lupin. The trails meander through Redwood groves and mixed forests of Madrone, Douglas Fir, Black Oak, Buckeye, and Bigleaf Maple.
With so many trails to choose from and with elevations ranging from 600 to 2,400 feet, we relied upon a trail map, available online, to make our selection. Because we lingered too long over breakfast and newspapers, we got a late start and thus were limited in hiking time, so we opted for the four-mile Ancient Redwood Trail. This trail loops from the parking lot to a 14-foot-wide old growth Redwood affectionately known as “the Grandmother tree.” It’s amazing that this old girl, estimated to be 1,800 to 2,000 years old, survived logging in the old growth forest. Perhaps she survived because she is wider than she is tall. The coastal Redwoods are reputed to be the tallest living trees in the world, but the Grandmother tree is wider, perhaps wiser and certainly older than most. Picnic tables offered us a shady place to eat at the intersection of Vineyard Trail and Fern Lake Trail.
Two scenic and relatively short historic trails lead to the Wolf House ruins and a tour of London’s Beauty Ranch. Dogs on leash are permitted on these walks.
The Sonoma Mountain Trail is more challenging for hikers and bikers as it is an 8 mile trek, rated difficult, rising in elevation from 600 feet to 2,400 feet at the summit. The Sonoma Ridge Trail is a 9.5-mile hike rated moderately difficult with about 1,500 feet in elevation gain.
Trail traffic is light on weekdays and moderate on weekends, getting lighter the farther out you go. These are nice trails year-round, but most lush and lovely in the early spring due to blooming wildflowers and butterflies.
Many of Jack London’s books are considered classics. You may remember reading some of his adventure books in school, such as “Call of the Wild”, “White Fang” and “The Sea Wolf”. He wrote passionately about the deeper questions of life and death, dignity and integrity. London was one of the most prolific and popular authors of his time, the first to earn a million dollars as an author. Some have been translated into as many as 70 languages. He was incredibly prolific; between 1900 and 1916 he completed more than 50 fiction and nonfiction books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous articles.
Jack London wrote so often about wolves that he was nicknamed “The Wolf”, and when he began construction in Sonoma of his dream house in 1911, he named it “Wolf House”. London hired the San Francisco architect Albert L. Farr to design Wolf House. When construction was almost completed, in 1913, a nighttime fire gutted the interior of the house.
Ruins of the Wolf House that would have had 26 rooms, nine fireplaces and encompassed 15,000 square feet. But it was not to be, as the destruction of his dream house was devastating for Jack and his wife Charmian. London died three years later at the age of 40. We walked around the ruins of Wolf House, imagining the wine cellar and giant fireplaces before finding his grave nearby. Don’t miss Jack’s Shop, the park’s gift store, adjacent to the Cottage on weekends from noon to 4 p.m. The shop offers more than 50 of Jack London’s titles as well as writings about his life, and books by and about his wife, Charmian London.
The park charges a $10 vehicle entry fee. More information about trails at the Park is available at https://jacklondonpark.com/park-trails-hikes/. Visit this website to learn more about the park and Jack London at https://jacklondonpark.com/. Another excellent resource is the video on YouTube entitled: History Hunters: Exploring Author Jack London’s Ranch in Glen Ellen. On the virtual tour you’ll see the exhibits in the Museum, which is closed due to the pandemic. The exhibits include fascinating photographs and personal mementos such as Jack London’s typewriter and pieces of his sailboat, The Snark.