An Author’s Legacy: Jack London State Park

“Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive.”

Jack London from the novel John Barleycorn 


When travelers think of Sonoma County in Northern California, they imagine vineyards, wine tasting, and fine dining. If you venture beyond the vineyards into the hidden hills of Sonoma, you’ll discover an overlooked cultural gem – Jack London State Park.

The Park’s 1565 acres of rolling hills and woodlands blend nature and historic sites that captivate the colorful history of Jack London’s life in Sonoma. Jack London was one of the most prolific and popular authors of the early 20th century. He is best known for his novels Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf, (1904) and White Fang (1906).  Call of the Wild is the story of a domesticated dog named Buck who is stolen from his home in California and sold to be a sled dog in Alaska. The book has been translated into approximately 70 languages and has been made into several movie adaptations. 

Jack London State Park is home to Happy Walls Museum, the Wolf House Ruins, his cottage, his grave site, and 29 miles of back-country trails for hiking or horse-back riding, and a lake. 

The Cottage was the Jack and his wife Charmian’s principal home on Beauty Ranch. After a 2006 restoration, the Cottage and its stone dining room were opened to visitors. Here London wrote many of his later novels and stories. In the morning hours, Jack wrote 1,000 words a day while Charmian edited and typed manuscripts and letters. The museum offers visitors extensive cultural programs (piano concerts, lectures, wildflower hikes, videos, artifacts and lively tours about his life and work. 

Visitors are treated to a large collection of historic photos that show Jack at work and play as well as a wealth of artifacts the Londons’ collected during their travels in the South Pacific. His writing room displays his typewriter and other original furnishings. The photos and stories of their South Pacific cruise aboard the Snark are of particular interest. 

Jack and Charmian at their cottage credit Huntington Library San Marino CA

The Wolf House

Jack London wrote so often about wolves that he was nicknamed “The Wolf”. When he began construction in Sonoma of his dream house in 1911, he named it “Wolf House”.  London hired 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. Wolf House would have had 26 rooms, nine fireplaces and encompassed 15,000 square feet. But it was not to be. The destruction of his dream house was devastating for Jack and Charmian. 

London died three years later at the age of 40. Today, visitors can walk around the ruins of Wolf House, imagining the wine cellar and giant fireplaces before finding his grave nearby.  

The House of Happy Walls Museum 

After Jack London’s death in 1916, Charmian and Eliza Shepard, his stepsister, and architect Harry P. Merritt designed the House of Happy Walls to be Charmian’s home and ultimately, a museum. She lived in the house from 1935 until 1952. This Arts and Crafts-style house has Spanish-style roof tiles and fieldstone walls. 

The “Pig Palace”

Jack London was “green” before the term was coined. The Park includes exhibits and information about Jack’s interest in science, sustainability, and biodiversity, what we would call “green” today.

Although Jack London was the most famous and highly paid writer of his era, his great passion was farming. His days were extremely disciplined, allowing time for writing, to be with his family, write letters and to give himself the time to read journals and books about farming and agriculture. In the early 20th century, he was already using modern farming practices, rotating crops, using natural fertilizer, crop rotation and recycling animal and plant waste in compost and natural fertilizers. He led the way for many of the principles of organic farming today. 

Visitors can walk around the famous “Pig Palace” he built in 1915 on his farm. The design promoted the health of animals with a large communal exercise area and more. The piggery cost $3,000 which was a huge sum in 1915. A San Francisco newspaper stated that “Jack London has built a Palace Hotel for his pigs.”  

Jack London’s Life and Books

Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 and by the age of 30, he was internationally famous for Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf, (1904), and White Fang (1906) and many other literary and journalistic accomplishments.

He began construction of his 45-foot yacht, the Snark, in 1906. Jack and Charmian planned an around-the-world voyage. The yacht had two masts, was 45-feet long and London boasted to have spent $30,000 on the construction. 

In 1907 Jack, Charmian and a small crew sailed out of San Francisco Bay bound for the South Pacific where they visited Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. During the cruise London taught himself celestial navigation and the basics of sailing. They sailed for two years. His book, Cruise of the Snark, and photographs chronicle these remote places at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Prior to publication of his book Cruise of the Snark, he wrote essays for magazines including The Lepers of Molokai. 

He wrote about adventures based upon his own experiences in Alaska, at sea, and in the factories and fields of California. He was one of the most romantic personalities of his time, considered a rugged individualist. He was extremely handsome, courageous, full of fun and laughter and always up for another grand adventure. 

London was the first to earn a million dollars as an author.  Some of his books 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. 

Activities at the State Park

Many weekends talented Piano Club volunteers play Charmian London’s 1901 Steinway grand piano bringing music and joy into the House of Happy Walls.

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 29-miles of trails to choose from and with elevations ranging from 600 to 2,400 feet, it’s advisable to use a trail map, available online.

The most popular 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. 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 and the ruins of the old winery. 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. 

Wildflower-watchers appreciate the changing blossoms along the trails of Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen (Sonoma County, CA) during peak wildflower season in February – August.

To help visitors make the most of the natural splendor, the park provides a free online Blooming Nowguide to the latest blossoms at the Park, with photos, names, and recently spotted locations.  

Visitors can seek out a variety of flowers, with names like California Buttercup, Pacific Hounds Tongue, and Checker Lily.

The “Blooming Now” guide is available at beginning in February and will be updated every two weeks through August 31, 2024. 

The guide is easy to print or follow online for walkers and hikers as they seek and identify the blooms found along the park’s 29 miles of trails.  (The park does not provide printed versions of the guide.)

Special Events

Check the website for free docent-guided tours, education and upcoming events. They might include a “Women Composers’ Piano Concert” or a Wildflower hike, or “Charmian’s Spring Fling” with a fashion show, luncheon and wine tasting. 

Directions, Hours and Fees 

The Park is located about 1.5 hours north of San Francisco in Glen Ellen, California, between the towns of Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

Open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day). The Park is open 9 am–5 pm. The Museum hours are 10 am–5 pm and the Cottage is open Noon–4 pm.  

The park charges a $10 vehicle entry fee. Visit this website to learn more about the park and Jack London at

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. 

Jack’s Shop, the Park’s gift store, offers more than 50 of Jack London’s titles as well as writings about his life, and books by and about his wife Charmian. 

By Marybeth Bond, National Geographic author, writer, founding editor GutsyTraveler.

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