Colby Ranch is a year-round camp and retreat center in southern California, nestled inside the Angeles National Forest, and home to thousands of visitors each year.
Read on to discover the full story of how the Colby Ranch lands changed from tribal grounds, to a pioneering homestead, to the outdoor ministry it is today.
The Early Years
Tribes of Tongva or Kizh Native Americans lived throughout the San Gabriel mountains and coastal basins below, with archeological evidence indicating their habitation of the area 10,000 years before contact with Europeans.
Contact with Europeans began in the middle and late 1500s. By the early 1800s, disease had diminished their numbers drastically, and evangelism all but wiped out the Tongvan pre-Christian culture. With its year-round spring, Colby Ranch must have been visited or inhabited by Tongvans; however, it seems to have been somewhat well-traveled but unsettled when the Colbys arrived in the late 1800s.
In or near 1891, Delos and Lillie Colby, and their daughter Nellie, set themselves at the base of Strawberry Peak and claimed a swathe of land.
"Hikers venturing beyond the front range camps into the primitive back country of the San Gabriels were treated to the hospitality of two almost legendary resorts—Colby and Loomis ranches.
Hidden away in a lush mountain glen in Coldwater Canyon…lies historic Colby Ranch…The Colbys grew most of their own food in their fruit orchard and vegetable garden, and were said to have been able any day to cook a delicious chicken dinner on one or two hours' notice."
(from The San Gabriels; John Bobinson, 2001)
The Colbys were true pioneers. Nellie was once described as 'a typical mountaineer, did a man's work, played better poker than her dad, and was a top mule packer; she had a voice that would have won a hog calling contest, and employed many burro-encouraging adjectives extraordinary.'
Nellie's untimely death from throat cancer in 1914 was followed by her father's in 1918. Nellie's sweetheart, Joe Argay, fulfilled his promise to Nellie and stayed on the ranch to help Lillie. Lillie remained on the ranch until she too perished, in a house fire, in 1927. The ranch passed to Lillie's nearest relatives; Joe remained on the land until his death in 1940.
Joining the Methodist Church
Colby Ranch was purchased by the Methodist Church in the 1940s. Through the intervening years, the ranch grew from a modest homestead to a 200-bed retreat center. Stevens Hall was completed in the 1950s and additional cabins have been completed in stages. A 100-person pool and grassy playing field were also added, granting an experience of luxury within the rustic landscape.
Station Fire, 2009
Consuming over 160,000 acres, the Station Fire forever altered the landscape of the western Angeles Forest. The fire danced around the edges of Colby Ranch, taking out six buildings; fortunately, the oldest and largest - including Stevens Hall, Pioneer and Cottonwood, the manager's house, McGiffen Hall, and the majority of guest cabins -- remained unharmed.
Even so, the Station Fire marked the start of a major time of transition for Colby Ranch. The instability of the surrounding land and heat damage to parts of Colby’s infrastructure meant closure and renovation for 5 years.
Colby officially reopened in fall of 2012. Renovations continued through the winter season and more retreats came in spring of 2013. The last remaining rubble from damaged buildings was hauled away and the pool house and deck were repaired in time for the 2013 summer season.
Today, Colby Ranch is a marvel: winding up Angeles Forest Highway through a sparse desert and fire-marked landscape, you suddenly arrive at an oasis of greenery and well-kempt, comfortable cabins. First-time guests always marvel that they're "so close" to home yet feel a world away - in the best way!
Colby Ranch is now home to unique backpacking and wilderness programs, which offer encounters with God in the untamed face of nature and of ourselves. In the coming years, Colby will continue to reclaim its ranching heritage with a reintroduction of the historic Colby apple orchards, the addition of ranch animals that guests can meet and pet, and the installation of the Colby history museum.
Colby Ranch offers a private location for family getaways and group retreats, with availability up to 200 guests. Learn more about how Colby can help you create an event you'll treasure for a lifetime.
Into the Wild & Surf Camp
Colby Ranch's premier adventure programs for youth. See program dates, activity descriptions, and more.