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Our History

The Beginning

In the late 1940’s an idealistic young couple had a vision of a better world. In the years just after World War II, Laura and Sandy Sanborn had a dream of creating a place where young people could learn to live together in the out-of-doors. They bought 480 acres of land in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado and, in 1948, they welcomed four boys to Big Spring Ranch. Now,almost 70 years later, Sanborn Western Camps and its associated organizations, Colorado Outdoor Education Center, High Trails Outdoor Education Center, and The Nature Place Conference Center, provide outdoor experiences for thousands of children and adults each year.

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As Big Spring Ranch grew during the 1950’s, families expressed interest in a similar program for girls. The summer of 1962 saw the opening of the High Trails Ranch for Girls. Both camps quickly expanded to include extensive programs in western riding, hiking and backpacking; a great variety of sports, water sports, arts and crafts; geology, biology and other natural sciences; rafting adventures and mountain climbing; all mixed with lots of trips and camping out.

The Camp Grows

Throughout the 1960’s the staff grew in proportion to the number of campers, bringing expertise in education, knowledge of the outdoors, and skills in working with children. Under the direction of Sandy and Laura, these talented staffers extended the original educational vision of the Sanborns to a growing number of youngsters. Facilities, land, and learning centers grew to keep pace with the educational goals of the camps.

Learning centers were developed which include a working cattle ranch, a restored 1890’s homestead, two astronomy observatories, a simulated Ute Indian tipi village, a rebuilt frontier sawmill, and geological collecting sites. The Interbarn, an interpretive science center, contains active displays, a library, and a wide variety of scientific equipment.

As a logical outgrowth of the educational emphasis of the camps, an innovative outdoor education program with local school districts was developed in 1967. A pilot program with one class of fifth graders from Colorado Springs was the beginning of a residential outdoor education program that to date has served over 130,000 elementary students, 20,000 high school students, and 8,000 teachers from districts throughout the state. In 1978, The Nature Place was built as a conference center where adults could also enjoy and learn in the out-of-doors. Business executives, families, educators, scientists and many other groups have enjoyed conferences and retreats at the Nature Place.

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It’s Been a Wonderful Journey

Today, Sanborn Western Camps with 140 staff members serves over 700 children every summer, with more than 40 states and 12 countries represented each year. From the original 480 acres, the amount of deeded land has grown to over 6,000 acres. Facilities continue to expand-and new programs, such as technical rock climbing and mountain biking have been added. In 1999, Sanborn Western camps became a non-profit organization and merged with Colorado Outdoor Education Center. Though our property and programs have changed a great deal over the years, our mission has remained the same: To live together in the out-of-doors providing a Sense of Self, a Sense of Community, a Sense of the Earth, and a Sense of Wonder through fun and adventure.

Explore Our Camps

To learn if Sanborn might be a good fit for your child, please explore one of our three camps below - Big Spring Ranch for Boys, High Trails Ranch for Girls or Junior Camp for children ages 7 - 10.

A Colorado summer camp for boys, ages 9 – 16. Campers enjoy a variety of activities such as backpacking, riding, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and some incredible trips — including a climb up a 14,000 ft. peak and camping overnight in the Rockies.

A Colorado summer camp for girls, ages 9 – 16. Our camp provides the perfect combination of outdoor adventures, fun, friendships, relaxation, and life skills development. High Trails also offers a concentration on horseback riding — including overnight riding trips.

A Colorado summer camp for children in the 1st – 4th grades (ages 7-10). This two-week program introduces youngsters to camping and provides an outstanding outdoor mountain camp experience.