20 Best Colleges and Universities for Outdoor Adventurers

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Best Colleges and Universities for Outdoor Adventurers Badge

Whether you prefer salty ocean swells to rock scrambles at ten thousand feet, school doesn’t have to interfere with your thirst for adventure. In fact, many studies find that supplementing academia with the exploration, exercise, and challenges awarded by outdoor adventuring can dramatically improve one’s academic performance. Luckily, there are innumerable colleges and universities that will put you in direct proximity to national trails and parks, rock walls, the best beaches, white water, and more. We have listed here some of the best colleges and universities for outdoor adventurers. Our criteria takes into account this proximity as well as the national ratings of the school, its outdoor emphasis, and the opportunities for earning credit outside the classroom. One thing to note below is that the tuition rates reflect annual undergraduate costs and do not include room and board and other fees. Our data comes from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News and World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

Top 10 Best Colleges and Universities for Outdoor Adventurers

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  1. Montana State University
    Location

    Bozeman, MT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Montana State University is a public, land-grant university located in Bozeman, Montana. They offer undergraduate degrees in over fifty fields, as well as nearly fifty masters degrees, and eighteen doctoral degrees. The city of Bozeman serves all-season adventurers with ski resorts, mountain lakes, rugged peaks, and canyons just minutes from campus. Students can take off on the weekends to engage in some world-class ice climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and more. And, of course, Yellowstone National Park is a mere half day’s drive from campus.

  2. University of Oregon
    Location

    Eugene, OR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Nestled between the Cascade and Coastal ranges, Eugene is home to adventurers of all stripes: cross-country skiers, trail runners, backpackers, mountaineers, and more. Crater Lake National Park is only a couple hours away and the Three Sisters Wilderness area draws climbers, hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and campers all year long. And, of course, the ocean is only an hour to the west. The University of Oregon, walking distance of downtown Eugene, is consistently ranked on national lists, especially those including sustainability practices in their credentials. The university offers over three hundred undergraduate and graduate degrees.

  3. University of Colorado, Boulder
    Location

    Boulder, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In close proximity to multiple 14ers (mountains with summits of over fourteen thousand feet), ski resorts, miles of backpacking and hiking trails, Boulder, Colorado ranks as one of the best cities in the U.S. for outdoor recreation. The renowned University of Colorado Boulder is comprised of over 150 academic programs with a faculty led by Nobel laureates and MacArthur Fellows. Sierra Magazine named the university as one of the “Coolest Schools” in the United States for its emphasis on climate change efforts and green sustainability.

  4. University of Hawaii, Manoa
    Location

    Honolulu, HI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Hawaii’s state capital, Honolulu, the University of Hawaii is in direct proximity to the aqua blues of the Pacific Ocean and the black rocks of volcanic terrain. For those who prefer boards, boats, and beaches, they will find ample opportunities to combine academia with adventure. Only one mile from Waikiki and Ala Moana, the University of Hawaii makes an array of activities available to its students, from snorkeling to kayaking, as well as clubs and organizations that promote physical health and sustainability. The University of Hawaii is consistently ranked among the best in national universities and graduate programs.

  5. Green Mountain College
    Location

    Poultney, VT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With a curriculum specifically designed to emphasize the importance of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, Green Mountain College was ranked second in Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Green Colleges.” Whether you choose to major in biology or adventure education or the arts, Green Mountain gives its students the opportunity to creatively infuse their education, even providing the option for students to design their own major. Located just south of the Green Mountain National Forest, there are innumerable hiking, camping, and climbing opportunities.

  6. Western Washington University
    Location

    Bellingham, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overlooking the San Juan Islands and the Bellingham Bay, Western Washington University is only an hour’s drive from Mount Baker and Olympic National Park. The Pacific Northwest offers dynamic landscapes—from rugged coast to snowcapped mountains, rainforests to whitewater rivers—and thus equally dynamic adventuring opportunities: skiing, rafting, hiking, climbing, and more. Western Washington University only adds to the opportunities, being well recognized for its Huxley College of the Environment, the first ever college dedicated to environmental science and policy in the U.S.

  7. University of North Carolina at Asheville
    Location

    Asheville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Ranked eighth in the nation among public liberal arts colleges, the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNC Asheville) has been recognized for its small class size, award-winning faculty, and its emphasis on student-teacher mentorship. Situated in the Blue Mountains, Asheville as a city has also been recognized for its cultural diversity, progressive politics, and outdoor recreation, namely whitewater rafting and kayaking. Outside Magazine cites Asheville as one of the “Best Outside Towns” and Frommer’s named it as one of “The Top 7 Places to Live in the U.S.” UNC Asheville encourages its students to get outside by offering trips, lessons, a bike shop, and more.

  8. University of California, Santa Barbara
    Location

    Santa Barbara, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of California, Santa Barbara is a renowned school that has been included in innumerable rankings, including “Best National Universities” and the “Best Global Universities,” and the faculty is comprised of Nobel Prize laureates, Field medalists, members of the National Academy of Sciences, and more. The campus is also known for its proximity to solid swells. Big Drakes, El Capitan, Driftwoods, Campus Point, and Coral beaches are all within city limits and offer surfers everything from world-class waves to regional classics. If water isn’t your thing, there’s also the Los Padres National Forest that borders the city and Sequoia National Park is only a half day’s drive.

  9. Black Hills State University
    Location

    Spearfish, SD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Spearfish, South Dakota is located just north of Black Hills National Forest, just east of Thunder Basin National Grassland, and only an hour from Badlands National park, and Spearfish is the home to Black Hills State University. The campus is within an hour and a half drive from over two thousand climbing and bouldering routes. For those who like to ice climb, mountain bike, ski, and snowboard, the campus is only minutes from the Northern Black Hills. Students can even choose to major in Outdoor Education, which prepares them for careers in state and national parks, nature centers, zoos, aquaria, non-profits, lodges, field stations, wilderness programs, and more.

  10. University of Maine
    Location

    Orono, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The flagship institution in the University of Maine system, the University of Maine Orono was included in Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll, a prestigious list that recognizes schools for their commitment to sustainability. Orono, Maine is located on the Penobscot River, is adjacent to numerous national wildlife preserves and forests, and is just an hour from Acadia National Park. At Orono students can participate in the Maine Bound program, which gives them the opportunity to earn outdoor experience at all skill levels. There are options to rent bikes and gear, to tackle challenging ropes courses, take backpacking trips, go sea kayaking in the Everglades, rock climb with guides, and much more. Finally, the University of Maine has been designated an arboretum.

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