This hike in Jack London State Historic Park was on a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in the Valley of the Moon area in Sonoma County. The park is just south of Glen Ellen, a small town on Arnold Road, which runs about a mile west of, and parallel to, CA-12 through the Sonoma Valley.
I was expecting a warm day, so I was grateful for the 72-degree temperature when I started hiking at 11am. A slightly nasty surprise, before I left the parking lot, was a horse fly or deer fly (I’m not sure which, but it was nearly 1 cm long) that snuck under the cuff of my hiking shorts to bite my leg. I gave it a good swat and made the identification as it fell to the ground. The reaction area was almost an inch across, developed within minutes, and was sore throughout my hike and sensitive for nearly 2 weeks – but fortunately not itchy.
The main Bay Area Ridge Trail segment is not yet directly accessible from trail heads, so a connector trail is used from the upper parking lot near the park entrance, in the upper right of the GPS track. The hike configuration is kind of a Tee, where you first hike up the stem, then to one side and then the other side of the top, and finally back down the stem.
The connector trail goes past an active vineyard. This is currently private property adjacent to the park, but may have been the location of London’s original vineyard.
There are several buildings remaining from the century-old “Beauty Ranch,” including the distillery.
The lower part of the connector trail is the Lake Trail, mostly on a service road, and hikers can take a side trail that goes past beautiful redwoods, which are very close to the trail and consequently fenced off to protect the roots.
The connector trail climbs about 750 feet in 2.2 miles to the junction of the Mountain and Sonoma Mountain Trails. This is the main junction of the hike, at the top of the Tee. From this main junction you can go either left or right.
I decided to go south (left) first, taking the Sonoma Mountain Trail from the main junction. This trail was mainly forested, with several different types of trees as well as ferns and some poison oak, both of which seemed to thrive in the shade. The madrones were particularly distinctive.
At several places along the trail, as it continues to climb, there are brief gaps in the trees that open out to pretty views across the Valley of the Moon. This picture was taken at the high point of the Sonoma Mountain Trail, at about 2100 feet elevation, with the valley floor about 1900 feet lower.
At other places the perspective is more to the south, where the San Pablo Bay can be seen at the foot of the Sonoma Valley. The day wasn’t clear enough to see Mt. Diablo, 45 miles away, but on clear days it is visible.
At the south end of the trail there is a short loop through the forest. After returning to the main junction I continued north on the Mountain Trail. About a mile past the junction the forest opens up and there is another Tee junction where the aptly named Hayfields Trail goes right.
As I hiked along the Hayfields Trail I found what seemed to be an unmarked junction and initially took the wrong trail. After quickly correcting that, I was alert for an “end of trail segment” sign. In retrospect I believe I turned around about 0.1 mile too soon. Basically the afternoon had warmed up considerably – when I got back to my car its outdoor thermometer registered 97 degrees! – and I wanted to have enough energy for a recommended detour to the park summit at the park’s west boundary, which is about 0.6 mile and 300 vertical feet from the Tee junction between the Hayfields and Mountain Trails.
I’m glad I took this detour, because there were really nice views to all directions except the nearby top of Sonoma Mountain, just beyond and slightly higher than the park boundary and topped by a TV station broadcast antenna and other communication towers. In particular, to the north Mount St Helena was visible, some 20-25 miles away, across several intermediate rows of hills.
From the park summit it was a steady 1600-foot descent to the parking area. When Jack London lived here he had a house, ranch, and winery. Although I didn’t visit the historical buildings, they would make an interesting addition to any hike in this State Historic Park.