Jack London State Historic Park, US: The penultimate destination on Wine Country Trek from San Francisco

The Jack London State Historic Park, which the celebrated writer described as "130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California", is still rich with memory. This is the penultimate destination on our 10-day, self-guided slackpacking Wine Country Trek from San Francisco into the Sonoma wine country.

The trek has taken us across some gorgeous, diverse country during our 100-kilometre hike north through Marin and Sonoma counties; none more so than this lush valley on the outskirts of the Sonoma village of Glen Ellen.

With 47 kilometres of trails across six square kilometres, this place of ancient redwoods, lofty oaks, maples and laurels, lakes, historic orchards, vineyards, high ridges and stunning vistas was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963.

Jack London, author of White Fang and Call of the Wild, wasn't just a writer – the first American writer to earn $1 million, as it happens. He was also a war correspondent, adventurer, social activist, innovator and pioneering farmer with a spirit of adventure and fun.

A visit to his beloved home gives insight into his intelligence and humanity, as well as a chance to walk the trails that London and his great love, his second wife Charmian, enjoyed.

So it's a particularly diverse state park where the dreams – and desolation – of the Londons was realised.

London, who wrote 50 books translated into 70 languages and who achieved much during his lifetime, died tragically young at 40 from kidney disease. This year is the centenary of his death and custodians plan monthly events to highlight facets of his inspiration and innovation.

We hike to The House of Happy Walls, a peaceful stone home that Charmian built as a monument to her husband. Though devastated by his death, she committed herself to promoting his legacy. She sold his writings, working with agents, publishers, translators and the film industry, becoming well known in her own right, never remarrying.

Charmian filled her place of memory with artefacts collected during their many adventures – from fishing spears to calabashes to books and mementoes.


Today, the museum traces the Londons' jam-packed life, including Jack's publishing and war correspondent papers; look out for his first rejection letter. He was prolific, writing 1000 words daily, six days a week as well as hundreds of essays, stories and pieces of journalism.

There are stories about his upbringing, which contributed to his sense of social justice, their travel destinations and the saga of their dream yacht, The Snark, named after the creature in the Lewis Carroll poem.

Their adventures were both fascinating and fraught. Malaria and other diseases plagued them and certain places were less than fun. "If I were a king, the worst punishment I could inflict on my enemies would be to banish them to the Solomons," London wrote.

Illness forced them to abandon their voyage in Sydney in 1909. Their beloved vessel was sold and eventually abandoned on a reef in the New Hebrides.

It's hard to leave this absorbing museum, thankfully unsullied by a gift shop. Afterwards, we walk to the ruins of the Londons' dream home, begun in 1911 and dubbed the Wolf House for the many books he wrote about wolves and dogs.

The house burned down just before completion and London died before he could rebuild.

On a little knoll overlooking the Valley of the Moon is the grave site where Jack and Charmian's ashes are scattered.

Hiking further, we arrive at Beauty Ranch and the Londons' principal home, the Cottage, as well as the winery ruin, silos, barns and Pig Palace, christened thus by neighbours unimpressed by London's avant garde animal husbandry and scientific farming methods. He improved his land with soil rejuvenation methods gleaned during his travels. His ideas foreshadowed modern organic and biodynamic methods.

Our detailed trail guide takes us up the valley, past vineyards into cool redwood and mixed evergreen forests. Horse riders pass us as we climb past London Lake towards the ancient grandmother tree – a 2000-year-old first-growth redwood.

Here we stop and lunch on our excellent grilled paninis bought earlier from the Glen Ellen Village Market​ deli. Locals stop to chat, expressing their passion for this special place that, on Charmian's wishes, was donated to the State of California.

It's time to reluctantly hike out of the park and down the hill towards the Benziger​ Winery where our Glen Ellen wine tasting trail begins, to drink a toast to great lives cut short.



See www.jacklondonpark.com; www.winecountrytrekking.com


Qantas flies from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to San Francisco. See www.qantas.com.au


San Francisco to the Wine Country 10-day/9-night self-guided hike includes trail guides, premier lodging, in-hike transfers, breakfasts, lunches, private wine tastings, kayaking, private catered dinner. From $US2650 ($3733) a person sharing. Shorter options available. See www.winecountrytrekking.com.

Alison Stewart travelled with the assistance of Wine Country Trekking.