15 Great Colleges for Outdoor Lovers

outdoor_schoolsIf your daydreams are filled with wandering deeply wooded trails, hanging by your fingertips on a rock wall, enjoying the warm sand between your toes, or dodging rocks as you race down a river, choosing the perfect college may seem like a daunting task. However, finding an outdoor school or a school in the mountains, that also offers excellent academics doesn’t have to leave you feeling light-headed. There are several learning institutions that will provide you with a great education and still give you the outdoor recreation you need to let go of stress and enjoy your college years.


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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.


Best Colleges for Outdoor Enthusiasts


15. University of Arizona – Tucson, Arizona

The University of Arizona is our number 15 pick for the best outdoor school. US News has given this educational institution several awards, including Best Value Schools and Best Colleges for Veterans. It offers graduate programs as well as online programs. This mountain school is located in Tucson, which provides an excellent location for sun lovers! With over 300 average sunny days, you can be outside enjoying hiking, biking, or rock climbing at almost any time. Imagine after a long day of classes having the opportunity to burn off some steam by hiking Finger Rock Trail. If you are looking for some quiet downtime, you can take a nature walk and check out the different varieties of plants that thrive in this area.

14. University of Colorado – Boulder, Colorado

If you are a student who loves both summer and winter, consider the University of Colorado, which is located in Boulder. This outdoor lover’s college is nestled in the hills of the Rocky Mountains and offers easy access to several great hiking trails as well as kayaking, backpacking, river tubing, and some great snow skiing. For a needed study break, when the weather is warm, imagine taking yourself up to Wanderloop Lake Loop and pulling up a rock where you can take in the views of the Flatirons while studying for next week’s big test. This outdoor school is one of only 34 U.S. public research schools that is also a member of the Association of American Universities and has received several awards from NASA in regards to its research.

13. University of Maine – Orono, MaineUniversity_of_Maine

As a college in the mountains, the University of Maine is a great choice for students who are seeking a place to gain a great education and have some exciting outdoor time as well. This university is located in Orono and sits on the Penobscot River. If you have some time between classes, you can rent a bike and go for a ride to clear your head. For more adventure, consider backpacking one of the numerous trails this area offers. During the semester break, you can take a few days and head to Acadia National Park to explore even more of what Mother Nature offers. This outdoor college was recently named in Princeton’s review “The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition.” It received high marks in student satisfaction, student engagement, and top residence halls.

12. Boise State University – Boise, IdahoBoise_State_University

Boise State University makes it on our list of the best outdoor colleges because it is surrounded by mountains that offer a plethora of trails for mountain biking, skiing and some great areas for rock climbing. This school is located in Boise Idaho, which has been named one of the healthiest cities in America. Offering several mountain ranges, there is plenty of fun to be had year-round in this area. In the winter, you have the ability to ski several thousands of acres of different level terrain, while in the summer you will have the ability to retreat from the heat and go rock climbing. This college in the mountains offers combined minors, internship opportunities and certificate programs for the interest of all students.

11. The Evergreen State College, Olympia WashingtonEvergreen_state_college

Evergreen State College is located in Olympia Washington, making it a great educational choice for outdoor lovers. In fact, this mountain school sits in a forest over 1,000 acres large. Having such excellent access to the outdoors, allows the college to provide many programs that use its land. There are also many walking and hiking trails in the area, as well as biking trails. Moreover, Evergreen Beach provides you with access to enjoy the beach or watch seals in their natural habitat. You are also only minutes away from many public beaches and the Pacific Ocean at this college in the mountains. Evergreen provides more than 60 areas of study and you can earn your Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in a variety of these areas.

10. University of Alaska – Fairbanks, Alaska

The University of Alaska makes it on our list of great outdoor schools because it is just a few hours away from the Denali National Park, which is home to over six million acres of natural land. When taking time off from studying, you may enjoy spending time in this park, bird watching, looking at different wildlife, or searching for fascinating wildflowers. While earning your education at this college in the mountains, you may wish to include courses such as ice climbing or white water rafting. The University of Alaska, in Fairbanks, offers programs that will provide certificates, licenses, Bachelor’s Degrees, Associate’s Degrees, and more. This outdoor school also provides several learning options including on-campus and eLearning programs.

Further Reading: Cheapest Online Colleges

9. Humboldt State University – Arcata, CaliforniaCalifornia_State_University

Attending Humboldt State University will make you long for free time to be outside and explore. This school in the mountains is just minutes away from the Redwood National Park, where you can find miles and miles of hiking trails. trees you can drive a car through, camp, and enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature. Also nearby are local beaches that are situated on the Pacific Coastline. You will also find local artists, sharing their works, self-guided tours of the old town, and a Mural Tour. Recently this outdoor school has received several awards which include: “A Top Western University” from U.S. News & World Report, “Best in the West” and “Green College” both awarded by Princeton Review; as well as several other awards.

8. University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, ArkansasUniversity_of_Arkansas

At the University of Arkansas, you have a plethora of hiking trails, that are easy to find. In fact, there are currently over 40 miles of hiking trails. The city has a plan to create an interconnected system of trails. If hiking doesn’t pique your interest, consider an afternoon at one of the man botanical gardens or visit Veteran’s Park, a place to remember fallen soldiers. This university offers several degrees with your choice of concentrations. Additionally, this outdoor school also offers an online program for courses. U.S. News & World Report has given this school several awards, including Top Public Schools as well as  Best Colleges for Veterans and more.

7.  University of Washington – Seattle, WashingtonUniversity_of_Washington

Located in the heart of Seattle, the University of Washington offers plenty of outdoor activities to keep you energized. Take a break from the books and hit the slopes in the wintertime. During summer break, you can explore the mountains by backpacking, biking, or rock climbing. This school in the mountains also offers great outdoor clubs like the University Kayak Club. Being an outdoor school, you can find activities like cycle touring, rowing, and canoeing close to campus as well. The University of Washington has a “Green Rating” of 99, has had several staff members receive the Nobel Prize and the Medical Center has been named as the Number One Hospital in all of Washington.

6. University of Utah – Salt Lake City, UtahUniversity_of_Utah

The University of Utah is located in Salt Lake City. This school in the mountains offers plenty of outdoor recreation areas close to campus. Discover hidden lakes by enjoying a day hike in the Cottonwood Canyons, or choose to stay overnight at a camp spot in the mountains. Many of the mountain resorts offer summer activities as well as the “Greatest Snow on Earth” for skiing. For a slow-paced adventure consider walking around the Great Salt Lake or check out the bison at Antelope Island. The University of Utah offers Associate Degrees, Bachelor’s Degrees as well as Certificates in a variety of subjects such as Arts, Astronomy, Human Factors, and many more.

5. University of Miami – Coral Gables, FloridaUniversity_of_Miami

The University of Miami is surrounded by water, beaches, and outdoor fun! It is located in Coral Gables, which is just minutes from Biscayne Bay. You can check out one of the numerous botanical gardens, do some outdoor shopping, spend the day playing on the beach or try underwater explorations. While this outdoor school offers more water sports than many other places, it is also a nice location for hiking. UM allows you to earn your degree or certificate online as well as on campus. You can choose from several majors to enjoy some ambitious study time as this outdoor school provides education by top-notch faculty and is a high-ranking research facility.

4. Cornell University – Ithaca, New YorkCornell_University

Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, and offers some impressive outdoor recreation areas. Imagine after a hard day of studying heading to one of the beautiful lakes to do some fishing. Or cruising up the mountains to find the unexplored hiking trail. There are also several waterfalls in the area that provide peace from the busy academic world. Moreover, this Ivy League school in the mountains provides excellent academics. You will learn from top instructors while earning your degree in your chosen field. Cornell offers classes in-person as well as online and has a large list of majors from which you may choose. Additionally, this college in mountains also offers several dual degrees for students.

3. Appalachian State University – Boone, North CarolinaAppalachian_University

At Appalachian State University, in Boone North Carolina, you will spend your study time surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. This means you have many outdoor activities from which you may choose. In the winter you can always find several places to go skiing or snowboarding and this mountain school even offers snowboarding events. In the warmer weather, you have the option to go camping, backpacking, and hiking. This great outdoor school is very concerned about sustainability and student diversity as well as global learning. You can choose to earn your degree by attending in-person classes or the ever-growing online method. Appalachian State offers a variety of courses and certificates as well as degrees that you can choose to work towards.

2. Montana State University – Bozeman, MontanaMontana_State_University

Coming in at our number two spot on our list of great colleges for outdoor lovers is Montana State University. This outdoor school is located in Bozeman, Montana which offers a myriad of both winter and summer open-air activities for the nature lover. There are several mountain ranges in this area that offer excellent hiking and backpacking opportunities. Yellowstone River is a favorite spot for white water rafting. You will also find plenty of lakes and streams to visit for a calming afternoon. MSU allows you to earn your degree both online and in-person, with several different majors from which you may choose. This college in the mountains also attracts a high number of international students from 72 different countries.

1.  University of Hawaii – Honolulu, HawaiiUniversity_of_Hawaii_Manoa

Our number one pick for the best school for the outdoor lover is the University of Hawaii. With the pristine beaches, crystal blue waters, lava rock and volcanic terrain, this outdoor school has to offer the best outdoor experiences a student can find. Spend your days working hard for your degree, but take time off to enjoy paddle boarding, surfing, swimming and sunbathing. For a little more adventure, try snorkeling and deep-sea diving. With the clean sea air, you will never be able to get enough of the outdoors in Hawaii. You have several options when choosing which degree to earn at this school in the mountains, including a certificate, Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree and even a Doctorate. Fields of study vary from accounting to zoology and everything in between.

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Online Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.