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Best Colleges for Outdoor Enthusiasts

10/28/16 by Amy Lynch

Most colleges and universities in the US offer something in the way of recreation, from competitive sports to student organizations that enjoy fun in the sun. For students, and soon to be students, who absolutely love the outdoors and want to spend time in the wilderness while they’re working toward a degree, finding a college that caters to the outdoor lifestyle is a must.

There are a lot of factors that go into making a school the perfect spot for the outdoor lover. Location is the first and foremost. Is the school near the mountains, by the water, or surrounded by forest? It’s also important for the college to have a variety of eco-adventure and recreational groups, such as climbing, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, or fishing, to name a few. Does the school offer outdoor education classes such as botany, conservation, or wilderness first responder? Are there facilities like climbing gyms, ropes courses, or environmental centers nearby?

Here are 10 great colleges from coast to coast that are perfect choices for the outdoor enthusiast.

1. University of Colorado Boulder

CU’s campus has excellent views of the Flatirons.
CU’s campus has excellent views of the Flatirons. iris

Close to the Rocky Mountains and a short walk from excellent hiking and climbing in Boulder’s foothills, CU is an outdoor lover’s dream come true. Boulder is the epicenter of Colorado adventure. Besides gorgeous mountain hikes and legendary climbing, cycling, mountain biking, and trail runs are all within human-powered distance of campus. The University of Colorado’s student organizations run the gamut from archery, backcountry camping, and climbing to ski racing, skydiving, and sailing. If that’s not enough, within two hours of campus are several major outdoors havens, including Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and several major ski areas.

2. Cornell University

Cornell’s elegant campus architecture.
    Matthew MacPherson
Cornell’s elegant campus architecture. Matthew MacPherson

If it’s an Ivy League school you’re after, Cornell fits the bill with its year-round, seasonal sports. Hiking, climbing, paddling, and skiing are all accessible from this upstate New York playground. The campus overlooks Cayuga Lake and the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains are nearby, so it’s no surprise that Cornell’s curriculum includes a host of natural sciences. Entomology, plant pathology, horticulture and food science are major fields of study that share an organic connection with the wilderness in the region.

3. Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee southern charm shines through.
Sewanee southern charm shines through. Amanda

Voted by Travel + Leisure as one of the country’s most beautiful college campuses, Sewanee sits on a 13,000-acre campus, only 1,000 of which are actually developed. The rest of its property consists of untouched forests, caves, and breathtaking Cumberland Plateau overlooks. A 20-mile perimeter trail surrounds the campus and its outdoor programs leads students on hundreds of guided trips each year. Majors include biodiversity, ecology, environmental studies, forestry and geology. Outdoor clubs range from canoeing and cycling to rugby and crew. Last but not least, the school has its own farm, which teaches students about organic gardening, beekeeping, and overall environmental stewardship and sustainability.

4. Stanford University

Stanford’s academic reputation often overshadows its exquisite setting.
Stanford’s academic reputation often overshadows its exquisite setting. iris

This esteemed school offers an impressive balance of the digital and natural scholorship, thanks in no small part to its location in the heart of Silicon Valley. Offering a staggering array of outdoor student organizations, Stanford has an outdoor education program, a Redwood club (fitting, as it’s less than an hour from multiple redwood-filled state and national parks and preserves), an alpine club, and groups for kayaking, surfing and more. Not far from the coast, the mountains, or, of course, the redwood forests of California, its academic programs have a reputation for fostering learning in the field, from its geology and hydrology programs to its seven – seven! – majors offered under the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.

5. Sul Ross State University

Sul Ross is in the heart of diverse wilderness areas in Texas.
Sul Ross is in the heart of diverse wilderness areas in Texas. Ed Schipul

Although it’s tucked away in the tiny town of Alpine, TX (population 6,054), there’s nothing small about Sul Ross State University’s surroundings. The world-renowned McDonald Observatory, high atop the Fort Davis Mountains, is just 40 miles northwest of campus and one hour south is Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is one of the most biodiverse areas of the entire country, boasting some of the darkest night skies and toughest backcountry camping expeditions in the nation. The Sul Ross College of Agricultural and Natural Sciences readies its graduates for careers in agriculture, conservation, and wildlife management, while its recreational programs offer outdoor gear for checkout, ranging from paddling to parasailing equipment.

6. UC Berkeley and Santa Cruz

UC Berkeley is one of California’s most beautiful campuses.
UC Berkeley is one of California’s most beautiful campuses. John Morgan

The University of California system is no slouch when it comes to its enthusiasm for the great outdoors nor its dedication to giving students the freedom to explore it. UC Santa Cruz is situated on Monterey Bay near the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by natural beauty and gorgeous weather all year round. It offers all five levels of SCUBA certification for its students. What’s more, there’s a marine canyon nearby and the campus enjoys close proximity to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Geological Survey, where jobs are a hot ticket for those about to graduate. UC Berkeley, for its part, boasts an 800-acre nature preserve, an esteemed environmental studies program, and more than 1,200 student groups ranging from an adventurer society and hang gliding club to archery, climbing, equestrian, ski, snowboarding, surfing, and triathlon groups.

7. University of Hawaii at Manoa

The Japanese Garden at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a peaceful spot to soak up the outdoors.
The Japanese Garden at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a peaceful spot to soak up the outdoors. Daniel Ramirez

It’s no surprise the University of Hawaii at Manoa makes the list. The island environment is completed immersed in nature. Its campus on Honolulu is neighbors with both the ocean itself and the Waahila State Recreation Area, a gorgeous wooded day-use park that runs along a ridge, offering breathtaking views of the Palolo and Manoa valleys. On-campus (and near-campus) activities include cricket, cycling, sand volleyball, and rugby. If you’ve ever wanted to take a hiking or bodyboarding class for college credit, UH is very likely the place for you.

8. Lewis and Clark College

Lewis and Clark College—the very name screams adventure!
Lewis and Clark College—the very name screams adventure! M.O. Stevens

It wouldn’t be a complete list without giving a nod to the Pacific Northwest and what better school to include than the one named after the first American expedition to cross the western US? Nestled into a small footprint in southwest Portland, the Lewis and Clark campus spans just 137 acres with a view of Mount Hood in the distance. In a city with 152 miles of interconnected trails and countless maintained parks, the college’s clubs cover the usual range of outdoor sports and activities, but it’s the school’s College Outdoors program that really takes the cake. Through its programming, L&C students take backpacking, cross-country skiing, hiking, sea kayaking, and whitewater sports voyages across California, Oregon, and Washington.

9. Green Mountain College

Green Mountain College is an environmentally progressive school.
Green Mountain College is an environmentally progressive school. Doug Kerr

One of the most environmentally-minded schools in the nation, Green Mountain College—whose motto is "First in Sustainability"— is true to its word and puts its money where its mouth is. Case in point: it has pledged to reach complete carbon neutrality by 2020, already installing solar panels and a wind turbine on campus. Between the Adirondacks and Green Mountains (hence its name), the college is founded on earth-minded ideals, offering degrees in environmental studies, natural resource management and sustainable food systems. Its student clubs include a bike and ski shop, an equestrian club, a farm crew, an outdoor recreation alliance, a rowing crew, a skate club, an ultimate rugby group and quidditch, because why not?

10. SUNY New Paltz

There's plenty of hiking in New Paltz.
There's plenty of hiking in New Paltz. Andra Mihali

The State University of New York in New Paltz is located tantalizingly close to the Shawangunk Mountains—more commonly known as the Gunks—giving it exceptional access to climbing, hiking, and camping. Student groups are heavily motivated by the outdoors but the educational opportunities are equally as impressive. SUNY’s Computer Science and English programs are highly regarded and as with the entire SUNY network of schools, tuition is more affordable than other schools in the area. The Hudson River flows near campus and the Catskill Mountains are within an hour’s drive. The Adirondacks of northern New York are a four drive—perfect for a weekend camping getaway or getting in a ski trip mid-winter.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.