Jack London State Historic Park: The Complete Guide

Wolf House Ruins

Courtesy of Jack London Park Partners

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Jack London State Historic Park

Address
2400 London Ranch Rd, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, USA
Phone +1 707-938-5216

Literary history and bucolic splendor collide in Northern California's Jack London State Historic Park. The slice of Sonoma County paradise in Glen Ellen was the home and farm of Jack London, the first author to earn $1 million from his trade, and his second wife Charmian London from 1911 until his death in 1916.

Dedicated as a state park in 1960 and a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the almost 1,400-acre park contains the cottage where the "Call of the Wild" author worked and subsequently died, a museum dedicated to the charismatic couple, the ruins of his never-finished dream house, their grave, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, vineyards, picnic areas, and winery ruins where Broadway alumni put on an annual show. Before London's arrival, this land was once the territory of the Graton Rancheria and Me-Wuk (Coast Miwok) tribes, according to Native Land Digital.

The park is beautiful year-round, but the peak seasons are spring and autumn. Spring brings wildflowers in the woods and grasslands, while fall sees fabulous color courtesy of the black oaks and bigleaf maples. Summer temperatures can soar past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but many of the paths are shaded. Wet years can translate to seasonal waterfalls, overflowing streams, and muddy hiking conditions.

To help plan your visit, read on to learn information about historic sites linked to London, available activities and tours, and the best hiking trails.

Jack and Chairman London at the cottage in Glen Ellen

Apic / Getty Images

Things to See

The main draw is, of course, the literary history held within the park's borders. Don't-miss stops include:

House of Happy Walls Museum

After London's death, his widow, Charmian, and stepsister, Eliza Shepard, built this Arts and Crafts-style house, where the former resided from 1935 to 1952. It's now a museum filled with the author's books, the Londons' personal belongings, and souvenirs from trips. You'll also find interactive exhibits dedicated to the Londons' life together, their careers and legacies, and their travels. Charmian's closet has been preserved as well as the adorable retro kitchen. On weekends, Piano Club members play her 1901 Steinway grand piano. There's a small bookstore here, too.

London's Cottage

Built in the 1860s and purchased by London in 1911, the wood-framed Beauty Ranch abode was his and Charmian's principal home. He wrote many of his later stories and novels here while Charmian edited and typed manuscripts in the office. London passed away on the enclosed porch in 1916. It and the detached stone kitchen/dining room were restored and re-furnished with their personal belongings, photographs and paintings, and period-specific pieces in 2006.

Beauty Ranch

In 1905, London started purchasing ranches on Sonoma Mountain to farm crops, grow vineyards, and raise livestock. He was far ahead of his time in terms of rotating crops, using cover crops and green manure, and utilizing terraces. London even worked with horticulturist Luther Burbank on an experiment to grow spineless cactus as animal feed. A small demonstration patch still remains. In addition to the Pig Palace that the author designed, some barns, the concrete block silos (the first of their kind west of the Mississippi), and the Kohler and Frohling winery ruins are all still there.

Wolf House Ruins

London started building his 15,000-square-foot dream home in 1911, but tragedy struck two years later when construction was nearly complete. A fire, believed to be caused by the spontaneous combustion of linseed oil-soaked rags left behind by workers, tore through the mansion. All that was left were the masonry and stone walls. Charmian later wrote that her love never recovered from the loss.

Gravesite

London requested his ashes to be laid to rest under a rock from his beloved Wolf House project, on the same knoll where two pioneer children were buried. Charmian's ashes joined her husband's under the same rock when she died in 1955.

The Lake

In 1914, London created a four-acre lake for farming, recreation, and hillside erosion remediation by stopping the headwaters of Kohler Creek using a stone dam of his own design. His neighbors weren't happy and took him to court in what became Northern California's first water rights trial. (London prevailed.) The floating walkway to the lake's center, the bathhouse, and even the lake itself aren't around anymore—it's more of an overgrown wetland now—but the dam persists.

All sites can be visited on your own, but we highly recommend taking a docent-led tour for a more fulfilling educational visit, especially at the Wolf House where signage is sparse. These walks are free, don't require reservations, and occur throughout the weekend. Private group tours can be arranged with at least 14 days' notice. The $30 premium tour includes a golf cart to take you from site to site.

Vineyards at Jack London State Park

Eric Fehrenbacher / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Literary history isn't the only reason to book a visit to this park: It's also a great place to convene with nature. More than 30 miles of trails meander through and past redwoods, oaks, coastal sequoias, maples, manzanitas, grassy meadows. vineyards, and the various London-related sites. If you're lucky, you might see some of the native wildlife, including mountain lions, black-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, and a wide range of birds and amphibians. Trail elevations vary from 600 to 2,300 feet. Standout trails include:

  • Sonoma Mountain Trail: This difficult 8-mile, out-and-back trail predominantly follows a fire road, leading to a summit where you can usually see all the way to Mount Diablo. Some views can be had at the mile-and-a-half mark. To make a longer, tougher trek, connect to Sonoma Ridge Trail, Lower and Upper Lake Trails, and Hayfields Trail.
  • Historic Orchard Trail: The moderately difficult course rewards with a 100-acre orchard of still-producing fruit trees (pears, apricots, prunes, plums, and apples) that were once part of a working farm and dairy. Be prepared for 400 feet of elevation change (which puts hikers at 1,000 feet). It's a 4- to 7-mile journey, depending on which route you take; hiking time is four to five hours.
  • Wolf House Historic Trail: An easy 1-mile path takes hikers from the museum's parking lot to the ruins and gravesite. Dogs are allowed and the elevation only changes about 200 feet. Another easy and very short route from the ranch lot will take you around Beauty Ranch's historic buildings. It is possible to connect the two for a slightly longer hike.
  • Ancient Redwood Trail: The pièce de la resistance on this trail is a giant redwood with a 14-foot diameter. Estimated to be 1,800 to 2,000 years old, it is known as the Grandmother Tree. This 4-miler starts at the lake, gains 200 feet in elevation, is mostly shady, and takes about two hours. Extend the adventure using the Fern Lake Trail.
  • Bay Area Ridge Trail: Part of this larger 350-mile trail system circling San Francisco Bay runs through JLSHP along the ridges of Sonoma Mountain.

Horseback Riding

With Triple Creek Horse Outfit's tours, visitors can experience the beauty of this land the way the adventurous couple often did—on the back of a steed. The company has been leading rides at this location since 2003. There's a variety of tours to choose from, including an hour-long ride past vineyards to London’s swimming lake, a longer jaunt through redwood trees and open fields, and a ride that includes lunch near an ancient redwood featured in an early "Star Wars" film. Reservations are required.

Broadway Under The Stars at Jack London State Historic Park

Courtesy of Jack London Park Partners

Broadway Under the Stars

Held in the ruins of Beauty Ranch's winery, this musical theater concert series put on by the Transcendence Theatre Company is in its 10th anniversary season. Every summer, Broadway pros sing and dance on what has to be one of the country's most breathtaking stages. There's always a happy crowd, thanks to pre-show picnicking, food truck sampling, and wine tasting.

Where to Stay Nearby

There is no overnight accommodation of any kind in the park itself, but Sonoma County is known for its sparkling (sometimes literally as this is one of California's prized wine regions) hospitality. There are several restaurants and shops as well as great places to stay in Glen Ellen, including the 22-room creekside Jack London Lodge & Saloon. The Gaige House is a mashup of a sophisticated boutique, welcoming B&B, and a traditional Japanese ryokan. Your serene stay includes deep granite soaking tubs, delivered breakfast, wine-and-cheese tastings in the afternoons, and yoga in the meditation hut. Another Four Sisters Inn member, the Kenwood Inn & Spa, is just down the highway and takes its design inspiration from the Mediterranean. Looking to stay in a bigger, more bustling city? Settle in at Santa Rosa's recently renovated Flamingo Resort, a former roadside motel polished into a cool retreat with mid-century mod vibes, a huge family-friendly pool, and bunkbed rooms perfect for the next girls' weekend.

How to Get There

Located in the town of Glen Ellen, the park is approximately a 1.5-hour drive north of San Francisco, and a 30-minute drive from Santa Rosa off of CA-12.

Accessibility

In general, this is a big park with lots of hills and vegetation. Both the walkway to the House of Happy Walls Museum and the main road to the Wolf House ruins are paved. Golf cart service around the main historic points can be scheduled on weekends from noon to 4 p.m. for visitors needing assistance.

There is a lift that takes wheelchair users to the first floor of the House of Happy Walls Museum, but the second floor can only be reached via a cramped historic stairway. Those who can't take the stairs can view the second-floor exhibits using a 360-degree presentation available on mobile touchscreens and in a booklet. The bookstore manager can provide a table for ease of viewing. Wheelchair users can also enter the Cottage by ramp. Accessible restrooms are located in the museum parking lot, ranch parking lot, and on the trail to the Wolf House ruins.

Redwoods in Jack London State Park

Ryan C. Slimak Photo / Getty Images

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is a $10 vehicle entry fee. The rate goes up if the vehicle is carrying between 10 and 24 people ($50) or 25 or more passengers ($100). An annual pass costs $49. Group picnic site day-use rentals incur an extra cost.
  • The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., whereas the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Cottage from noon to 4 p.m. The park is closed on Christmas Day. Only the park and museum are open on Thanksgiving.
  • As the park is also a wildlife sanctuary, dogs are only allowed in designated historic areas, including the trail to the Wolf House Ruins.
  • Due to the constant threat of wildfires, there is no vaping or smoking allowed in the park.
  • First-come, first-served picnic tables can be found in the museum parking lot and at Wolf House Ruins, the Cottage, and on a knoll above the ranch parking lot. There are group picnic areas that require advance booking in an oak grove overlooking the vineyard (near the ranch's parking lot) and on the terrace next to the Cottage's garden. The oak grove has barbecue stands and potable water.
Article Sources
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  1. The Cultural Landscape Foundation. "Jack London Lake." Retrieved on October 28, 2021.

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Jack London State Historic Park: The Complete Guide