Best Colleges by Outdoor Activity

Whether you’re sending kids to school, a student looking to transfer, or reliving the college dream (grad school), there are many things to consider when picking a school. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to think about things like faculty/student ratios, tuition costs, student diversities and admission rates but, that’s not to say you can’t also consider how many days of powder your local resort can expect or how quickly after attending Management class you can be making s’mores in an old growth forest. Combine your education with your passions by attending one of the best colleges for hiking, camping, skiing, snowboarding, biking, kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving, stand up paddleboarding, rock climbing, hunting, and fishing.

For Hiking & Camping
Reed College – Sssshhhhhhhhh. Humbly hidden just outside Portland, Oregon’s liberal city center is Reed College. Reed is known for it’s unusually high proportion of grads who finish PhD’s and other postgrad programs. With under 2,000 undergraduates, it’s easily the smallest college on this list but boasts an amazing resume for camping and hiking enthusiasts. Within short drives of two national parks, as well as the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Ocean, you can reach nearly any environment imaginable on less than half a tank of gas. If you can’t get in, try Lewis & Clark College or head south to Eugene and the University of Oregon.

For Snow
University of Colorado Boulder – For those who are powder inclined, head to the winter wonderland of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Within reach are some of the top skiing and snowboarding destinations in the country, Eldora Resort, Aspen and Breckenridge to name a few. Expect plenty of free ski buses, like minded riders and lots of temptation to skip classes. But don’t think this is an education for mindless jocks, admissions are strict and academic programs are among the best in Colorado.

For Mountain Biking
University of North Carolina at Asheville – Nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, UNC at Asheville is crawling with epic mountain biking trails. While other parts of the country, like Moab, get more attention, there isn’t a decent school with an hour’s drive from other epicenters of the sport. At UNC Asheville, you can be riding within minutes of campus.

For Kayaking
Western Washington University – It’s hard to imagine a more perfect kayaker’s playground than the San Juan Islands. One hundred and seventy two islands await the paddle prone. Expect killer whales and porpoises to escort you from island to island, helping you explore hidden beaches, secret camping spots and tranquil bays. Situated on Bellingham Bay, Western Washington University is your best bet for quick access to this wonderland.

For Surfing
University of California, Santa Cruz – UC Santa Cruz is not for bronze skinned bikini bimbos and bimbros. It’s not for those seeking Jack Johnson and fields of hammocked palm trees. It’s for those who want serious surf. It’s for real riders. While it is frequently cold and seemingly uninviting, Santa Cruz has some of the most consistently good waves on the planet and the university is just minutes away. If you want to train your mind and your ride, this is the place to do it.

For Windsurfing
University of Hawaii, Maui – Pacific trade winds power through Maui like a fleet of locomotives. In the summer (when classes are out) you can expect consistent winds of 20 mph and over, just minutes from the University of Hawaii, Maui campus. In the winter, that wind gets less consistent but benefits from larger waves. No matter what your riding style, you’ll see it here.

For Climbing
California State University Stanislaus – Naming Yosemite the best rock climbing destination in the U.S. is almost too easy, but it must be done. Yosemite has been holy ground for granite geeks since the beginning of the sport’s rise. While there are dozens of colleges near Yosemite, few are as close or as good as California State University Stanislaus. This mid-sized public university is not only less than two hours away from the gates of rock heaven, (you can see Half Dome from parts of the city) it also has plenty of practice areas close by so you can stay on your game when you don’t have time to go to the big leagues. Maybe if more colleges promote it, climbing will be the next olympic sport.

For Scuba Diving
California State Monterey Bay – The Florida Keys offer warmth, incredible visibility, abundant marine life, fantastic wreck dives and no institutes of higher learning that could give you an education that you couldn’t probably pull out of a vending machine. Monterey Bay does not win by default. In fact, many would argue that Monterey is the best dive site in the country and one of the best in the world. It’s also got one California’s best public university a mile away from shore. That’s a right, a mile. Attend Cal State Monterey Bay, where epic wall dives are probably closer to your classes than your apartment will be.

For Stand-Up Paddleboarding
University of Texas at Austin – The outdoor industry’s fastest growing sport is still too new to name any setting the absolute best. Part of stand-up paddleboarding’s draw is that it’s possible in so many places, but few are as good as Austin. Situated on the Colorado River, within spitting distance of three manmade lakes, and only a day away from the Gulf of Mexico, the highly respected University of Texas at Austin is ideal for those looking for an education in SUP’ing.

Best Hunting/Fishing
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee – Home to far more than just cheese and hockey, Wisconsin has the third most water of any state in the country, good news for anglers, and seemingly, more whitetail deer than dogs. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee is conveniently located on the shores of Lake Michigan for year round big lake fishing, but is also minutes away from incredible small lake and river oasis for hunters and fishermen. If Ted Nugent had his own college, it would be here.

By Patrick Hutchison

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