If you love to ski, hike, climb, or paddle–or all of the above, there’s a good chance you’ll want to go to a college that embraces your passions. Whether you want to make a career out of your love for the outdoors and the environment, or simply want to be able to participate in your favorite outdoor hobbies while in college, there are plenty of schools that provide students with all kinds of outdoor opportunities.
We compiled a list of 20 of the best colleges for outdoor enthusiasts based on their proximity to the outdoors, as well as the opportunities provided by the school–both academically and recreationally. Wherever your passions lie, there is a college that fits every snowboarder, climate scientist, or backpacker.
Where: Steamboat Springs, CO – 10 secondary locations in western Colorado
Nearby adventure spot: Steamboat Ski Resort
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Sustainability Studies; Parks, Recreation And Leisure Facilities Management; Geology/Earth Science.
Popular outdoor club: As Colorado Mountain College, Steamboat Springs, as well as other locations are placed in the heart of Colorado ski towns, ski clubs like the Alpine Ski Team are hugely popular and give students more access to the mountains. Students also get discounts on ski passes like the Ikon and Epic passes, which apply to numerous local resorts.
Where: Eugene, OR
Nearby adventure spot: Smith Rock State Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Geology/Earth Science; Geographic Information Science And Cartography; Geography.
Popular outdoor club: The University of Orgeon’s Outdoor Program Cooperative is a co-op that organizes a “Rental Barn” for members to rent outdoor gear, Bike Program, and adventure trips. Students as well as other locals can become co-op members. Trips include things like surf trips, bike tours, campouts, and paddleboard trips.
“The University of Oregon is a great place to both start exploring the outdoors for the first time, and to learn advanced skills to enter the outdoor industry. It has a student Outdoor Program where you can pursue any outdoor interests you have, and an academic Outdoor Pursuits Program where you can learn skills from backpacking to Mountaineering and Vertical Rescue in the rockclimbing environment. Eugene is also located perfectly as a gateway to the rest of Oregon.” – Jack Blashchishen, a Senior at the University of Oregon.
Where: Missoula, MT
Nearby adventure spot: Glacier National Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Studies; Forest Resources Management; Forestry; Natural Resources/Conservation; Wildlife, Fish And Wildlands Science And Management; Parks, Recreation And Leisure; Geology/Earth Science.
Popular outdoor club: The University of Montana has an Outdoor Program similar to the University of Oregon’s, where students can participate in skills classes, join trips to Glacier National Park and beyond, rent gear, and take advantage of the maintenance workshop to tune up their mountain bikes and skis.
“UM has so many outdoor opportunities with the river running right by campus or Mount Sentinel and the Rattlesnake Wilderness area nearby. I can mountain bike from my front door and ride awesome trails. There is a bunch of climbing right near and a few gyms in town. Blodgett Canyon (1.5 hours away) hold some amazing bouldering and rock climbing opportunities! Also the trail running is amazing, UM has so much to offer in terms of outdoor opportunity and I feel like I barely cracked the surface,” said Nathan Wellington, a Senior at the University of Montana.
Where: Fairbanks, AK
Nearby adventure spot: Denali National Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Fishing And Fisheries Sciences And Management; Natural Resources And Conservation; Natural Resources Management And Policy; Wildlife, Fish And Wildlands Science And Management; Natural Sciences; Mining And Mineral Engineering; Geological/Geophysical Engineering.
Popular outdoor club: The Outdoor Adventures club gives students access to the Alaskan wilderness, including nearby Denali National Park by organizing ice climbing, canoeing, and rock climbing trips, as well as many others. The club also provides a backpacking or multi-sport orientation for freshman, equipment rental, a backcountry leadership program, academic wilderness classes, and safety classes.
Where: Reno, NV
Nearby adventure spot: Lake Tahoe
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering; Geological/Geophysical Engineering; Environmental Science; Forest/Forest Resources Management; Wildlife, Fish And Wildlands Science And Management; Geology/Earth Science.
Popular outdoor club: Whether you want to alpine ski, snowboard, or nordic ski, the Winter Sports Club at UNR is open to it all and organizes trips to the nearby Tahoe ski resorts. Students join in both recreationally and competitively.
“UNR is amazing because Lake Tahoe is right in our backyard! There are so many opportunities to experience the area by becoming a member of one of the many outdoor-focused clubs, or even just taking a quick day trip with your friends (which I do all the time).” – Alexis Luboda, a Senior at the University of Nevada, Reno
Where: Boulder, CO
Nearby adventure spot: Boulder Flatirons in Chautauqua Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Ecology And Evolutionary Biology; Ecology, Evolution, Systematics And Population Biology; Environmental Studies; Geology/Earth Science; Geography; Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering.
Popular outdoor club: Along with the classic outdoor recreation trips of hiking and backpacking, ice and rock climbing, CU Boulder’s Outdoor Program also teaches scuba diving, fly fishing, wilderness medicine, and avalanche courses. Plus, the program’s challenge courses comprised of indoor and outdoor obstacles, are a fun way for students to get to know each other.
“There is much to be gained from picking up the soil, examining it, turning it over in our hands, and creating a tangible connection with the West’s primary source of water; a benefit that can never be truly recreated within the four walls of a classroom.” – Taggart Mosholder, University of Colorado, Boulder Law student. Mosholder visited the Colorado River for his class, The Law of the Colorado River.
Bonus: The rec center offers classic gym activities like Bollywood cardio classes, chocolate meditation, and goat yoga…
Where: Asheville, NC
Nearby adventure spot: Blue Ridge Mountains
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Studies; Outdoor Leadership.
Popular outdoor club: One of the more unique outdoor clubs, Warren Wilson College’s Timbersports Club gives students the opportunity to compete in one of the most raw human skills–the cutting of timber. Channelling their inner lumberjack, students compete with other schools through various methods of cutting timber.
Where: Olympia, WA
Nearby adventure spot: Olympic National Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Natural Sciences; Sustainability Studies; Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Natural Resources/Conservation.
Popular outdoor club: Evergreen’s Outdoor Program offers fun, local spins on your typical recreation with activities like “S’Mores and Climbing”, a mushroom identification hike, and knot workshops.
Where: Knoxville, TN
Nearby adventure spot: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Plant Sciences; Soil Chemistry and Physics; Geography; Forestry; Natural Resource Economics; Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management.
Popular outdoor club: The University of Tennessee’s Outdoor Program combines organized outdoor recreation trip with the guidance for when you want to strike out on your own. The Outdoor Center rents gear to students and can assist students in planning their own outings.
“I think Knoxville is a good place to come if you’re wanting to explore the outdoors, because we have so much so close to campus.” – Mary, a Senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Where: Arcata, CA
Nearby adventure spot: Pacific Ocean, Trinity Alps
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Botany/Plant Biology; Environmental Biology; Marine Biology And Biological Oceanography, Natural Sciences, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies; Fishing And Fisheries Sciences And Management; Forestry; Natural Resources Management And Policy; Natural Resources/Conservation; Wildlife, Fish And Wildlands Science And Management; Parks, Recreation And Leisure.
Popular outdoor club: Humboldt State University’s Outdoor Adventures program focuses on utilizing the two nearest natural resources: the ocean and the mountains. With backpacking and hiking trips alongside sailing and stand-up paddleboard excursions, students can learn new skills and explore the surrounding area.
Where: Boise, ID
Nearby adventure spot: Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Studies; Geology/Earth Sciences; Geophysics And Seismology.
Popular outdoor club: Boise State’s Alpine Club teaches students mountaineering and climbing skills both in nearby forests and mountains and in completely different areas, such as Moab, Utah.
Where: Honolulu, HI
Nearby adventure spot: Pacific Ocean, Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Plant Protection And Integrated Pest Management; Plant Sciences Related; Soil Sciences Related; Botany/Plant Biology; Marine Biology And Biological Oceanography; Environmental Science; Natural Resources Management And Policy.
Popular outdoor club: Many students at the University of Hawaii, Manoa love to surf, and the Surfrider Student Chapter allows students to give back and keep the oceans they surf in clean. The group hosts ocean cleanups, puts on fun, ocean-friendly parties and events, and participates in related service projects.
Where: Boone, NC
Nearby adventure spot: Grandfather Mountain State Park
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Parks, Recreation And Leisure Facilities Management; Geology/Earth Science; Geography.
Popular outdoor club: Appalachian State University’s Outdoor Program provides all the bells and whistles: gear rentals, an orientation trip for incoming students, outdoor recreation trips, and a challenge course, but most unique is the local availability of caving. The Outdoor Program hosts dozens of single and multi-day caving trips from beginners to experienced students.
“Boone is a wonderful place year-round, but I especially enjoy the late fall and winter months when the cold weather rolls in. While some people dislike the cold and wish to stay inside, I highly recommend getting outside and participating in winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding. These are activities that Appalachian State University students should take advantage of, because we live so close to several ski resorts/mountains: Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain and Appalachian Ski Mountain. Engaging in these activities during the winter can enable students to keep an active, healthy lifestyle. It also enables you to meet new people and gain a greater appreciation for the outdoors.” — Hunter Burkitt, a Junior at Appalachian State University
14. Bowdoin College
Where: Brunswick, ME
Nearby adventure spot: Baxter State Park, featuring Mount Katahdin, the final landmark of the Appalachian Trail
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Ecology, Evolution, & Marine Biology; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental Studies; Earth and Oceanographic Science
Popular outdoor club: The Bowdoin Outing Club offers its 400+ members 150 excursions every year. These excursions include everything from rock climbing to biking to canoeing. The club also participates in restoration service projects by partnering with organizations that lead trail maintenance and trail and campsite clean-up days.
Where: Berkeley, CA
Nearby adventure spot: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Landscape Architecture; Botany/Plant Biology; Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering; Geological/Geophysical Engineering; Forest/Forest Resources Management; Forestry; Natural Resources Management And Policy; Natural Resources/Conservation.
Popular outdoor club: UC Berkeley’s Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society club has everything you would expect in a hiking club: day hiking trips, backpacking trips, and night hikes, but they also put on a lot of film screenings for environmental documentaries. Plus, they have plenty of BBQs, s’mores parties, and other low-key events to get people involved.
Where: Salt Lake City, UT
Nearby adventure spot: Great Salt Lake, Park City Mountain
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Studies; Parks, Recreation And Leisure; Geophysics And Seismology; Geology/Earth Science.
Popular outdoor club: With so many great ski resorts nearby, University of Utah’s One Love Ski and Snowboard Club brings over 300 students together of all skill levels. Advanced club members compete in the Freeride World Qualifying circuit, and all members receive ski pass discounts.
Where: Madison, WI
Nearby adventure spot: Lake Mendota
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Soil Science And Agronomy; Botany/Plant Biology; Conservation Biology; Plant Pathology/Phytopathology; Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Forest Sciences And Biology; Wildlife, Fish And Wildlands Science And Management.
Popular outdoor club: The Hoofer Outing Club provides students with a plethora of local activities for mountain, forest, and lake adventures. Students can learn to scuba dive in one of the surrounding lakes or go skiing–the Hoofer Outing Club creatively takes advantage of all local resources.
Where: Hanover, NH
Nearby adventure spot: Connecticut River
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Environmental Studies; Geology/Earth Science; Geography.
Popular outdoor club: The Dartmouth Outing Club is reportedly the oldest college outing club in the country. In addition to trips that involve hiking, farming, paddling and climbing, the club maintains a 50 mile section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The club also rents out both gear and cabins to students.
“The Dartmouth Outing Club is constantly changing with new membership and new sports, but our goal doesn’t change: we’re looking to create a comfortable space for beginners in all activities to gain new skills and veterans to push their limits. Whether you can send a 5.12, have hiked the 48, or have never touched a paddle before, the club is committed to giving people the resources and the peers to get to new heights.” – Mary Joy, a Sophomore at Dartmouth College
Where: Santa Cruz, CA
Nearby adventure spot: Wilder Ranch State Park, Pacific Ocean
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Plant Sciences; Marine Biology And Biological Oceanography; Ecology; Environmental Studies; Natural Sciences.
Popular outdoor club: UCSC’s Backpacking Club teaches students wilderness skills, and organizes trips with varying degrees of difficulty for students of all skills and fitness levels.
“It’s one thing to read about climate change and how the ice is melting in the Arctic, but it’s another thing to go out and see it,” said Christopher Garrison. “You see how real it is when the roads are buckling and full of cracks and dips because the permafrost is melting under the road.” – Christopher Garrison, University of California, Santa Cruz student who participated in a field excursion in Alaska for his Ecology and Evolutionary Biology field course.
Where: Lyndonville, VT
Nearby adventure spot: Burke Mountain
Outdoor/environmental degrees: Natural Sciences; Sustainability Studies; Environmental Science; Outdoor Education; Parks, Recreation And Leisure Facilities Management.
Popular outdoor club: Both the Lyndon Ski and Ride Club and the Outing Club provide students with opportunities to access the outdoors, particularly the nearby ski resorts. The Outing Club organizes the annual Ski Burke Day, which allows students to ski and snowboard at a cheaper cost.
These colleges and universities offer plenty of opportunities to get outside, meet like-minded students through organized adventure trips, and study the aspects of the outdoors that interest you. Finding your escape in the outdoors may be a major aspect of your life, and it’s one that you can expand upon during the self-discovering college years.