Staying at the Questhaven Retreat
There is a ton of lore surrounding the Questhaven Retreat. Endless rumors of it once being an insane asylum & a fire burning it down, stories of cloaked people walking through the forest at nights, ghosts, etc. I have written my own article and experiences about the retreat in the past. Recently though, one of my followers wrote me that he actually took the opportunity to go one step further and stay a couple nights there.
I asked him if he would be willing to share his experience on my website, and he was down! He has gone in depth on every detail while staying here so if this is a topic that interests you, please read on!
Article and photos by Heming Diep:
The Questhaven Retreat is a non-denominational Christian retreat located in the coastal hills between Escondido and San Marcos. It was first founded in 1940 by Flower and Lawrence Newhouse as a Christ-centered spiritual retreat and nature preserve.
Near the start of the trailheads for the western mountain (called Inspiration Point) I was able to find a concrete slab with this plaque that shows the exact location of the first service of The Christward Ministry on August 4, 1940.
“Questhaven Retreat is dedicated to serving one’s vital need to prayerfully repledge themselves. Here, in the quiet haven of peaceful hills, individuals from all walks of life may come to reconsecrate themselves to God and find answers to their innermost quest.” -Flower Newhouse
This quote speaks volumes to what Questhaven provides. With daily distractions from work, technology and daily issues, it’s become less accessible for most of us to take time out of our day to just block the world out and get lost for awhile.
The times of taking walks and enjoying nature seems to be getting further and further away. Questhaven is the ideal retreat for people to relax and unwind from their daily rituals because they believe that without all these distractions, we can thrive spiritually. Whether that means taking hikes in a beautiful nature setting or just being able to meditate and reflect inward, it all brings us closer to something bigger.
Below is a picture of a long mural within the grounds. There it showed Flower Newhouse surrounded by children and the many different animal species from the area.
Within the retreat, there is also a seven-circuit labyrinth. Labyrinths are archetypal symbols based on the circle, a universal symbol of unity and wholeness. “As one walks the sacred labyrinth, they are following in the footsteps of countless numbers of people over the centuries from every major spiritual tradition and every continent on earth.
Walking the labyrinth is often considered an energy pattern or a metaphor for the journey into the deeper self. It can create an experience of peace, healing, inspiration, and insight.” This specific labyrinth is 44 feet in diameter and has a 7-pointed start in the middle representing the 7 rays of human evolution.
During the first day of our stay, we were surprised by a loud ringing noise that could be heard throughout the entire retreat and the surrounding trails. The ringing came from Questhaven’s bell tower which rang every 3 hours from 6am until 9 pm, every single day.
After listening to the bell and learning the meaning behind the times it rings, it brought us peace and serenity each time it rang. Below is a plaque on the base of the bell tower.
The Questhaven retreat has cottages you can stay in during your retreat that can last from 2 nights, up to weeks. There are private cottages that have their own kitchens with single or double occupancy options.
There is also a larger cottage called Casa De Angeles that is more of a communal cottage. It has 12 individual rooms that all share 1 main kitchen and is slightly cheaper than the private cottages.
I stayed in a cottage called El Deseo which had 2 beds and a small kitchen. My stay there was pleasant and the cottage itself was simple, quaint and you could tell it has history behind it.
El Deseo was the first of the cottages built back in 1946 so it was fascinating to be able to stay in a piece of history. See below for pictures of the cottage & room. The first picture is a photo of the cabin back in 1944. Not too much has changed since then.
The retreat does allow for children, but they will always need to be accompanied by an adult and the noise level must be kept to a minimum. There is an older playground in the front center of the property.
By just walking around the retreat, you come across many seating areas with alluring views. Most of these views come with a stone or wooden bench, but there is one view that has its own wooden lookout structure with a gorgeous view of the valley below that has trails to explore as well. Below are pictures of the overlook.
Within the retreat there are countless trailheads that span all around the retreat, leading to their own adventures. Each of the trails had unique names that are hand painted on signs. The trails range from gentle terrains to steep and difficult. Some trails took as little as 30 minutes and others as long as 3 hours.
During the 1st day of hiking, we were able to get to a rocky overlook on this trail called Sunset Rocks Trail. We started late during the day so by the time we were at this rocky overlook, the sun was already starting to set which made a beautiful view. Here are some photos of the trail to Sunset rocks.
From there we hiked up Horizon View trail and were able to make it to a stunning viewpoint right before the sun fully set. What a blissful way to end the first day.
For our second day of hiking, we decided to start small in the morning.
We woke up early and headed out on a trail called Open Sesame. It was a flat trail, so it was nice to start off with something easy at first.
There were many smaller off trails that were not on the map, but we decided to take them because our adventure senses were tingling, and we wanted to take full advantage of exploring these trails while we had the chance. Here is picture of me on top of a cluster of boulders that is located at the end of one of these off trails.
The following photo was taken along the Open Sesame trail.
After finishing this trail, we ventured directly to a neighboring trail called the Nature trail that runs between the property lines of Open Sesame Trail and Inspiration Point and is the only trail that is open to the public as well. This trail seemed more like a service road connecting the retreat to the Elfin Forest. Still, it was very nice and beautiful to walk through. Here are some pictures from the Nature Trail.
After finishing the Nature trail, we headed back to the retreat to have brunch. The main gates of the retreat awas closed off with a chain link fence. The only people that are allowed to go on these trails are members and visitors of the Questhaven Retreat.
This made the experience very memorable and unique. I could tell the trails hadn’t had many visitors recently seeing that the surrounding brush was taking over, and the ground looked relatively untouched for some time. Below is a picture of the chain link fence and the retreat gates behind it.
The goal for this hike was to make it to the top called Inspiration Point. Below is a picture of the final bench before we got to Inspiration point. There is a sign that says “Speak to the Earth and it shall Teach Thee” – Job
On the route up to Inspiration Point, we also passed a sacred olive grove which was a beautiful, lush, green sight.
At the very top of Inspiration point, there is a large white cross made of metal and wood. The hike there is not the easiest with some steep inclines and rocky terrain here and there, but once you see that monumental cross and almost 360-degree view of the surrounding hills, you’ll know it was well worth it.
During our final day of hiking, we decided to hike all the way to Solitude Summit. This was the most challenging hike with steep inclines where you must climb the mountains in a zigzag path that helps you climb quickly in altitude in a shorter amount of time.
We had to stop and catch our breath a few times as it was a more demanding slope. We had to start from a shorter but still steep trail called Gnome’s Castle Trail. Not too sure why it called this, but it had the most unique name of the bunch with beautiful rocks to explore around and sit on for a clear view of the coast east of the retreat.
While hiking on the trail after we saw Gnome’s Castle view, we came across this large basin. It was an Earthen Dam that was all dried up. I couldn’t find much other information about it, but it was a different site to see.
The following picture was taken at the peak of Solitude Summit and the view was breath taking. If I had all the time in the world, I would have just propped up a chair and enjoyed the view all day long.
During our hike we came across many animal tracks. Mostly coyote but we were able to spot many deer tracks on the last day. Day two we startled a pack of coyotes that howled and yapped for a while, but we never saw them.
The entire area is under a dark sky ordinance so after a certain time, it was suggested to turn off all outdoor lighting. This made the entire retreat look pitch black. I remember stepping away from the cottage and realizing that the cottage was the only source of light in the area, besides the natural light of the moon and bright twinkling stars.
You can see in the following pictures how it looked like right before the sun fully set & how the outdoors looked like once the sun was completely gone.
I had a strange feeling standing outside my cottage in complete silence and darkness but once I looked to the sky, my entire perspective changed. The stars were so bright and plentiful in the black sky, now I understand one of the reasons why the locals want to have a dark sky ordinance.
Another reason is that they want to keep the local wildlife from being affected by the light pollution which makes sense seeing how the retreat is surrounded by nature.
If you look up Questhaven Retreat on Google, you will get their main website, but you will also encounter many videos on YouTube that say that the retreat is an abandoned and haunted insane asylum.
Obviously, the retreat is not an abandoned insane asylum from my accounts there so why would there be a such a story. I did a little bit of research and there is a story that there used to be an insane asylum on the intersection of Questhaven Rd and Harmony Grove Rd.
This insane asylum supposedly burned down and so did the patients inside. Below is a picture of the intersection of the two roads where supposedly the insane asylum ruins used to lay across the street.
There are actual accounts that there used to be old ruins in that location that would prove the story to be true, but that they were eventually removed. They say that the spirits from those who died still roam and haunt the surrounding area including the Elfin Forest.
Whether this story is true or not, the fact that it’s in a completely different location than the actual retreat sort of shows that the Questhaven retreat had nothing to do with said story.
There was an account of Flower Newhouse housing patients with mental disabilities in the 1940s and that there was a fire that burned down portions of the retreat.
This might be the reason that people believed Questhaven was the burned down insane asylum from long time ago, but they are mistaken. The following is a picture of the front gates where most of the YouTube videos have taken place.
There is a security building nearby the front gates that usually has a guard there every night after 10 PM. The YouTube videos usually show a group of young people getting scared by this guard, thinking he’s a ghost or a member of a cult. When in fact, he’s just a normal person trying to do their job.
I grew up in a Catholic household but since being an adult, it has been difficult to find enough time for work, family and religion so I’ve been lacking in the latter. I made sure to let the representative from the retreat know that I used to be a practicing Catholic and that I did not know much about what their beliefs stood for. The representative, Laurie, was super kind and helpful and explained to me that they are a group centered in mystical Christianity which is the practice of direct communication with God through Christ and that they did not discriminate about other paths or religions.
This made me very pleased because the idea that anyone from any religion or maybe even someone without a religion can make a visit to this retreat to find inner peace and possibly find their own “God” is amazing. Laurie mentioned that people in the past have been able to connect to God in their own ways.
Some ways including taking hikes on one of the many trails within the 655 acres of the retreat, to staying in their cottages and reading or meditating. Others take trips to the beautiful church to mediate or to have a 1 on 1 conversation with a minister.
Whatever you decide to do here, it will be peaceful and calming which will allow you to be more attuned with nature, the world, and most importantly, your spirituality.
There is service on Sundays at the Questhaven church but during the weekdays it usually stays closed so we were not able to enter. Below are pictures of the entrance and front of the church.
My personal spiritual experience there was filled with self-reflectance and the urge of wanting more in life. Staying at the retreat allowed me to reflect on what truly makes me happy and what is most important in life to me.
Sometimes getting away from the loud and busy life can really open your eyes. For me, the gorgeous views of the rolling hills around the retreat made me feel so much closer to mother earth and more attuned to my inner self.
I spent 3 days at the retreat and every single one of those day I couldn’t help myself to hike all day long. It was so therapeutic and allowed me to reflect upon life each step I took.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Questhaven retreat, and I plan to go back to visit again eventually. Whether you are spiritual or not, this retreat allows you to get away from everyday life and just live in the moment.
Whether that includes hiking or meditating or anything in between, if you are seeking truth from yourself, that’s really all that matters. I thank Laurie, our Questhaven representative, for making our stay there very pleasant and calming.
I also must thank my girlfriend for tagging along and experiencing this great retreat with me. We did not know what to expect at first, hearing all the weird and dark stories about the retreat and the Elfin Forest, but once we figured out the purpose and experienced the vibes firsthand, we felt right at home.