Best Colleges for Nature Lovers

There are a lot of different ways to take advantage of nature. You might love the great outdoors so much that you want to go to a school with access to hiking and skiing, or maybe you’re looking for an environmental studies program with outdoor class offerings. This list has both, but it’s not exhaustive. We’ve listed ten schools we believe are good fits for outdoor enthusiasts, but of course there are more. It’s a mix between east and west coast schools with a short explanation as to why these campuses could be a good fit.  


Location: Brunswick, Maine  

Bowdoin is a small liberal arts school with a polar bear (!) mascot, a tribute to Admiral Robert Peary (a Bowdoin graduate) who ~claims~ to have reached the North Pole in the early 1900’s. The school has an arctic studies program, and students in that program focus on the causes of climate change in the Arctic. The 215-acre campus is just two hours away from the Appalachian Trail and the school owns a coastal studies center for those interested in oceanographic studies. Bowdoin has an outing club that hosts walking, skiing, climbing, and rafting excursions throughout the year.

Washington and Lee

Location: Lexington, VA

One of Washington and Lee’s claims to fame is that Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark expedition) was an early graduate. They call themselves expeditioners. The campus is beautiful and there’s a lot to do: their outing club organizes recreational trips to a long list of rivers, parks, and forests in the area. Students like to hike and there is direct trail access connected to the back of campus.


Location: Stanford, CA 

The campus is in the middle of Silicon Valley, but there are outdoor activities aplenty. The Stanford school of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Science is one of only three departments at Stanford that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and many of the professors conduct field research throughout Northern California. Students run clubs for windsurfing, kayaking, and surfing. The Redwood are just a few hours away, and there’s a club for that too. Stanford also owns a 1,200-acre natural reserve that’s used for wildlife research.


Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

The Dartmouth Outing Club is the oldest collegiate outing club in the United States. They organize first year trips (outdoor trips for freshman) and almost everyone attends. You can hike through the Appalachians, ski (in New Hampshire and Vermont) and it’s not far from White Mountain National Forest and Green Mountain National Forest.  

UC Boulder

Location: Boulder, Colorado

A lot of people think of skiing when they think of Boulder, for good reason, but that’s not all the campus has to offer (although it is home to the oldest collegiate ski club in the country). The weather in Colorado makes UC Boulder a year-round playground for nature fanatics. To name a few, there are clubs for volleyball, running, biking, climbing, skydiving, archery, and golf. The Rocky Mountains are nearby and the town is completely surrounded by greenery.  


Location: Ithaca, New York

The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is the second largest college within the school with more than 20 majors to choose from. Within that program is Cornell AgriTech, the schools center for food and agricultural research and education. The school just received $1.4 million to study organic farming.  

Outside the classroom, Cornell’s outing club plans events for backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, and skiing in the nearby Catskills. The change of seasons in New York allow for an abundance of outdoor activities.

UC Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California

The Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society does pretty much everything from skiing, hiking, running, hang gliding, horseback riding, skateboarding, and surfing. It’s all non-competitive and fun, and you can even rent gear directly from the club. There are also 1,000’s of acres of park land within a few mile radius of campus. Environmental studies majors spend a lot of time doing fieldwork, but when you’re stuck inside studying at least you can stare at the San Francisco Bay.  


Location: Middlebury, Vermont

Middlebury’s campus is smack dab in the middle of the Green and Adirondack mountains, so winter sport enthusiasts stay busy. The school hosts a winter carnival with skiing competitions, and students aren’t far from a number of state parks. Middlebury’s sustainability initiative recently introduced an organic farm, environmentally friendly buildings, and a recycling center.


Location: Waterville, Maine

Students at Colby really care about the environment. The schools environmental studies program emerged in the 1970’s and in 2013 the school achieved carbon neutrality. There’s a climate change lab, a number of environmental research fellowships, and a lot of student organizations dedicated to saving the environment and getting outdoors.


Location: Los Angeles, California 

For starters, the weather. People spend a lot of time outside. Club sports are big and focused on fun, not just competition. There are clubs for sailing, windsurfing, rowing, surfing, and more. If you’re into biology or geology, a few of those classes are taught outside.


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