Jack London State Historic Park
Beauty Ranch, Lake, Mountain Trails
To lake is 2 miles round trip; to top of Sonoma Mountain is 8.25 miles round
trip with 1,800-foot elevation gain
There have been few more colorful, individualistic, and, ultimately more tragic ﬁgures in American literature than Jack London. Born in San Francisco in 1876, London struggled to release himself from the stiﬂing burdens of illegitimacy and poverty.
His quest led him on a succession of rugged adventures in far-ﬂung locales. He was an oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay, a gold prospector in the frozen Klondike, a sailor in the South Seas. He drew largely on his rough and tumble experiences throughout his proliﬁc career as a writer of novels, short stories, and magazine articles.
London, who by most accounts was the most successful writer of his time—in terms of ﬁnancial earnings, fame and popularity—is today best-known for his outdoor adventure stories. White Fang, The Call of the Wild, and To Build a Fire, his most popular works, have stereotyped the writer as one who depicts the theme of the individual’s struggle to survive, using nature’s harshness as a backdrop. But London’s message was more complex than that, yet through time it’s been largely ignored.
A passionate humanist, London was deeply committed to the cause of socialism. In his day, before the Russian Revolution skewed the promise of utopian socialism, London viewed socialism as the way to restore human dignity and respect for the individual. He raged against the oppressive social conditions of the Industrial Age in The People of the Abyss, Martin Eden, and The Iron Heel.
London’s life was a mass of contradictions. He was a wealthy socialist, a he-man who was plagued with ill health, an imaginative writer who feared he would one day run out of ideas. He and his wife Charmian lived in the bucolic setting of Glen Ellen, far from the crowded city conditions he decried.
London ﬁrst purchased land in the Sonoma Valley in 1905, and continued to add to his holdings until he owned 1,350 acres. As he described the setting: “...there are great redwoods on it...also there are great ﬁrs, tanbark oaks, live oaks, white oaks, black oaks, madrone and manzanita galore. There are canyons, several streams of water, many springs...I have been riding all over these hills, looking for just such a place, and I must say that I have never seen anything like it.”
The Jack London Ranch is now the site of Jack London State Historic Park, established in 1960 in accordance with the wishes of his wife.
Among the attractions to be found in the park are the House of Happy Walls Museum, built by Charmian London as a memorial to her husband’s life and work and the remains of the Wolf House mansion, suspiciously burned to the ground shortly before the Londons were scheduled to move in.
Before or after this walk, be sure to make the 1.5 mile pilgrimage to Jack London’s gravesite and to the Wolf House ruins.
This excursion lets you meander through the main part of what Jack London called his “Beauty Ranch,” visits a small reservoir, then offers energetic hikers the chance to tackle Sonoma Mountain, located just outside the park boundary.
Directions to trailhead: From Santa Rosa head east, from Sonoma head north on Highway 12. Take the signed turnoff (Arnold Drive) a mile to the hamlet of Glen Ellen. Turn right on Jack London Ranch Road and proceed
1.2 miles to the state park. To visit the museum, turn left; for trailhead parking, angle right.
The hike: The path ascends a hundred yards southwest through a eucalyptus grove to a trail map and picnic area. Proceed straight ahead, past an old barn to a dirt road, where you go right.
A side trail leads to the cottage where London worked in his ﬁnal years. The dirt road forks. You head right along a vineyard, meandering past “Pig Palace,” London’s hog pen deluxe, as well as assorted silos.
About a half mile from the trailhead, you’ll crest a hill and get your ﬁrst great view of the Valley of the Moon. The trail soon splits: equestrians go left, hikers go right on a narrow footpath through a forest of Douglas ﬁr, bay laurel and madrone that ascends past some good-sized redwoods.
Lake Trail loops around the London’s little lake, where the couple swam and enjoyed entertaining friends. This is a good turnaround point for families with young children.
Sonoma Mountain-bound hikers will join the dirt road, Mountain Trail, which curves east to Mays Clearing, another ﬁne vista point offering Valley of the Moon panoramas.
Mountain Trail climbs steadily, crosses two forks of fern-lined Graham Creek, and ascends to what was once Jack London’s hunting camp (Deer Camp), tucked in a grove of redwoods. It’s marked “Rest Area” on the park map.
Mountain Trail resumes climbing, steeper now, beneath big black oaks, for another mile, ascending to the headwaters of Middle Graham Creek and up to the park boundary.
The park map shows the path ending here; actually, it continues another
0.25 mile to the crest of Sonoma Mountain’s east ridge. Enjoy the superb views from this, the park’s summit. (The actual mountaintop, eighty feet higher in elevation than the east summit, is forested with antennae and microwave relays and is located another 0.25 mile to the west.)
© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author. To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.