Top 5 universities for outdoor enthusiasts

Rebecca Hext
University in Hawaii for great adventures off campus.
University in Hawaii for great adventures off campus.

Looking for a university that suits your academic and outdoor leisure interests? Check out these four-year colleges that are set in ideal locations for outdoor enthusiasts.


California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo – San Luis Obispo, California

Cal Poly ‘SLO’ as the locals call it is nestled almost directly between San Fransisco and Los Angeles on the Central Coast of California. Academically this school offers a wide variety of majors outside of the Polytechnic realm, such as Forestry and Environmental Conservation. The city itself has been dubbed the “happiest city in America” by Oprah Winfrey, likely due to the citizen’s outdoor interest. The city has a variety of trails for mountain biking, running, and hiking, spanning from the ocean (Montana de Oro State Park) to the hills (Irish Hills Reserve). Not to mention, the school is a measly 60 miles from Big Sur. If you are looking for a school that has mountains and sea, this is the place for you.


Sunset from hiking trails in the Irish Hills Reserve 10 minutes from Cal Poly’s campus
Sunset from hiking trails in the Irish Hills Reserve 10 minutes from Cal Poly’s campus

University of Colorado Boulder – Boulder, Colorado

The University of Boulder experiences all four seasons, with thick, snowy winters and flower-filled summers. The school is home to the first zero waste sports stadium (in both collegiate and professional) in the nation. It is safe to say that finding outdoorsy, like-minded friends will not be an issue here.


The city has over 300 miles of biking and hiking trails, one of which, Boulder Creek Path, runs directly through town for easy access. If you have an interest in trying an activity that wasn’t available in your hometown, you are in luck! The school offers a program in which students are led on recreational trips such as kayaking and ice climbing.


University of Hawaii – Hawaii

If you are looking into Marine Studies, a laid-back lifestyle, and having the ultimate ocean backyard, University of Hawaii is the place to go.  With three different universities and seven different community colleges across the islands, you are bound to find one that fits your lifestyle.

No matter which campus you attend, the ocean is never very far. You can hit the waves before class, and check out the Mauna Kea Observatory (located on top of a dormant volcano!) in the evening. Additionally, almost all of the campuses offer discounted rates for students to get scuba certified!

University of Washington – Seattle, Washington

If you don’t mind the rain and love the PNW, apply to the University of Washington. The main campus is located in the heart of Seattle.  This gives students the opportunity to reap the benefits of living in a well-established city while still having access to the immense amount of nature present in the state.

Not to mention that the school is smack dab in-between the state’s three National Parks; Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic. In the winter, students are one hour away from the slopes at Snoqualmie Pass as well as Stevens Pass. If you are a lover of the cold, winter sports, this is a no-brainer to check out.


Olympic National Park located within 2 hours driving time from campus
Olympic National Park located within 2 hours driving time from campus

Appalachian State University – Boone, North Carolina

Located in the small, quaint town of Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian State University is perfect for students looking to live more remotely while pursuing their degree. Although the school is a Liberal Arts College, that does not mean they don’t offer science-related undergraduate majors.

As for outdoor recreation, you will definitely not run out of things to do in your four years here. The school is less than 30 minutes from Blue Ridge Parkway. This area has a variety of hiking trails, viewpoints, waterfalls, and swimming holes. And get this: there is a ski mountain 15 minutes from campus where you can learn to ski for college credit. It doesn’t get much better than that.


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We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.

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rebecca-hext is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival