From the University of Vermont to Colorado College—and many more in between—if you want to ski, hike, backpack, or simply surround yourself with beautiful scenery, in addition to getting an excellent undergraduate education, then you may want to consider adding these colleges to your shortlist.
1. Colorado College
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Number of undergrads: 2,023
Where liberal arts meet liberally available adventure opportunities, Colorado College(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) offers a masterclass in classes, sure, but also outdoor offerings of the highest order. Located in the heart of Colorado Springs, the surrounding scenery is as good as it gets. Pikes Peak towers over the city—a landmark 14er with hiking trails and a cog railway leading to its lofty summit. Garden of the Gods, with its striking red rock features and labyrinthine trails, is a mere ten-minute drive from campus. The Manitou Incline is a legendary mile-long slog with 2,744 steps and 2,000 feet in elevation gain. And the outdoor program at Colorado College is one of the best in the country. With a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship and outdoor ethics, the program offers students the chance to engage in activities such as rock climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, and more.
2. University of Vermont
Location: Burlington, VT
Number of undergrads: 10,585
Burlington almost feels like a place conceived during a creative meeting at Outside Magazine HQ. POV: All the top brass are there in the room putting their heads together trying to come up with some fairy tale place perched above of tranquil lake, with green mountains rolling in every direction, a vibrant downtown with great live music and pedestrian-only streets and an awesome organic eatery scene. Lightbulb moment: Burlington! Add in the fact that UVM's Outdoor Program(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) has been consistently recognized as one of the top programs in the nation—and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an awesome outdoor college. Fittingly, UVM has been named one of the "Top Adventure Schools" by none other than Outside magazine on multiple occasions. The Outdoor Program offers a diverse range of outdoor activities and trips, including hiking, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, and more.
3. Montana State University
Location: Bozeman, MT
Number of undergrads: 14,132
When people think “great outdoors,” they’re probably thinking of places like Bozeman. Proximity to world-class skiing at Big Sky? Check. Two hours from Yellowstone National Park? Also check. A near-bottomless buffet of world-renowned fly fishing, dramatic mountains for hiking, singletrack trails for mountain biking, killer crags for rock climbing, and thousands of acres of wilderness areas for backcountry exploring? Triple check. Add in Bozeman’s buzzing but quaint downtown—often called “the most livable place”—and it’s easy to see why going to school here would be an experience to remember. MSU’s outdoor program matches Bozeman’s outdoor scene stride for stride.
4. Western Washington University
Location: Bellingham, WA
Number of undergrads: 14,121
There’s great mountain biking. And then there’s Bellingham mountain biking. To use an overused (yet, in this case, accurate) word, this place is a true outdoor “mecca.” Galbraith Mountain packs in 78 miles of loamy singletrack ripping through mossy old-growth forests with some of the best downhill mountain biking in the PNW. Chuckunut Mountain offers more of the same. Beyond biking, Bellingham is also a paddler’s dream, perched on Bellingham Bay, with sea kayaking excursions featuring non-stop views of the San Juans and Mount Baker, and occasional sightings of spy-hopping orcas. The craft brewery scene in Bellingham means the trail-to-tavern lifestyle is in full effect. Western Washington University(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), meanwhile, boasts an exceptional outdoor program that perfectly complements this stunning Pacific Northwest location.
5. Sewanee: The University of the South
Location: Sewanee, TN
Number of undergrads: 1,698
Nestled at the top of Tennessee’s Monteagle Mountain, smack dab between the honkytonk capital of the world (Nashville) and Outside Magazine’s two-time winner of Best Town Ever (Chattanooga), to say that Sewannee is geographically blessed would be a massive understatement. The University of the South may be small in terms of undergrads, but it’s big on adventure. The campus itself has a whopping 65 miles of hiking trails(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre). The signature 20-mile Perimeter Loop Trail is the star of the show. Nearby Rock Island State Park and Cummins Falls State Park offer swimming holes of the highest order. As earlier-mentioned, Chattanooga is 45-minutes down the road, boasting hundreds of miles of hiking trails, famous climbing crags, and great paddling. The Sewanee Outing Program(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) makes all of this—and more—incredibly easy to access.
6. University of Arkansas
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Number of undergrads: 24,265
Fayetteville is no longer the sleepy, unheard-of adventure oasis that it once was. Today, people know about its quietly world-class mountain biking(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) trail system. They know that specialty outfitters like Pack Rat(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) and Gearhead Outfitters(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) cater to local adventurers with a laidback yet unmatched expertise. They know that nearby Horseshoe Canyon Ranch is one of the best bouldering fields in the country. What they still might not know is just how awesome all of this is for University of Arkansas students. If you’re looking for big-school vibes paired with small-town flair topped off with endless outdoor adventures, then U of A delivers the goods.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Number of undergrads: 32,119
LA locals like to boast that you can surf and ski in the same day. UCLA students tend to just do the former. But the option is still there! Nearby Malibu offers calm yet conveyor-belt surf breaks. The Santa Monica Mountains offer endless hiking and trail running. Big Bear Mountain, two hours east, has skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer. All of these offerings come with weather that’s consistently locked in at 72 degrees and sunny. What more could you ask for? The #1 ranked public university in the country, you say? Okay fair enough.
8. Lewis & Clark College
Location: Portland, OR
Number of undergrads: 1,814
Maybe you’ve heard—Portland is kind of a cool city for the outdoors. Nestled within it, Lewis & Clark College(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) provides an exceptional experience for students. The college's stunning location offers easy access to the Pacific Northwest's diverse and breathtaking landscapes. The Outdoor Program offers an extensive range of activities, including hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skiing, and more. One of the program's highlights is the wide array of trips and excursions offered throughout the year. These range from day hikes and weekend camping trips to multi-day expeditions in iconic locations like the nearby Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, and the Oregon Coast.
9. University of Hawai’i at Manoā
Location: Honolulu, HI
Number of undergrads: 14,120
Looking for adventure with aloha lifestyle? University of Hawai’i at Mānoa combines education with vacation. Most of the campus occupies the eastern half of the mouth of Mānoa Valley—a lush punchbowl of greenery at the base of the Koʻolau Range. Honolulu is also blessed with majestic mountain ranges, golden-sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, and a year-round tropical climate. It’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. “Edventure(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre)” is a huge part of both the school’s curriculum and everyday life in Hawai’i.
10. UC Berkeley
Location: Berkeley, CA
Number of undergrads: 32,143
Plenty of schools can boast state-of-the-art climbing gyms. But not many can boast running into Alex Honnold at their local bouldering spot. Down the street are the Clif Bar offices. Across the Bay, the Marin Headlands beckon with swashbuckling golden grass charm and old-growth redwoods. Location-wise, UC Berkeley is a dream. Education-wise, it’s one of the best schools in the country. Outdoor-program-wise, the Department of Recreational Sports makes getting out and amongst it easier than seeing Alex Honnold at Indian Rock… again, very likely.
If you’re looking for a college experience with (more than) a splash of adventure, then these colleges are seriously worth considering.