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Best Colleges For Hikers, Trail Runners, & Outdoor Adventurers


Article Categories: Hiking Tips
Article Tags: Hiking | Hiking Tips

When choosing a college, students need to consider so many factors. And we’re not just talking about the usual ones- such as the quality of education, curriculum, extracurricular activities, or scholarship opportunities. Students also want to make sure that their old habits and hobbies remain a regular part of their daily or weekly routines. And, those students who love hiking may need to find a college in close proximity to great hiking and other outdoor opportunities.

If you’re a hiking enthusiast about to enroll in college- this is the article for you. Below, we’ve created a list of the best colleges you can pick between, without being scared that you’ll have to give up on this segment of your life. Let’s break it down.

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Eastern Schools
Western Schools
Non-Contiguous Schools


How This List Is Made

In this list, we break down schools into three categories: Eastern United States, Western United States, and States located outside the contiguous U.S. and Canada. While we understand that this list isn’t exhaustive, it gives potential students a great starting point to begin to find schools that have incredible outdoor opportunities.

You’ll find other lists that also mention academic considerations. While this is essential when choosing the best education, it is impossible to label any university by academics when looking at the whole university. Depending upon the specific program you are looking for, a schools status in that field can vary wildly. Therefore, this list is based solely on accessibility for outdoor adventure. The types of programs, and quality of those programs should be determined through further research.

We did our best to list out schools from all regions across the United States, however, it is important to recognize that hiking often involves mountains, or changes in elevation. Therefore, many amazing schools in the midwest or southern states have fantastic outdoor opportunities, but tend to not be schools ideal for avid hikers.


Eastern Schools In The U.S.


Appalachian State University

Location: Boone, North Carolina
Website: https://www.appstate.edu/

Appalachian State UniversityAbout The School

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this University is surrounded by hiking, climbing, running, and simply gorgeous terrain. Because of this, when polled, students say they chose ASU due to the outdoor opportunities. While most students attending the school are from the state of North Carolina, about 10% of the student population is “out of staters”.

ASU supports its students well in the pursuit of outdoor careers with connections with outdoor guiding companies and the National Park Service. In addition to this, students are able to achieve outdoor certifications to further their passions or jumpstart their careers. For instance, many students will become climbing instructors, Leave No Trace educators, mountain biking instructors, or hiking guides.


University of Vermont

Location: Burlington, Vermont
Website: https://www.uvm.edu/

University Of VermontAbout The School

The University of Vermont is another east coast gem of a school. With over 100 outing club adventures every year, nearly any student can find an adventure only a short distance away. Directly adjacent to Lake Champlain, ski mountains just around the corner, access to the stunning Green Mountains, and close proximity to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and other fantastic outdoor destinations, their is access for every type of outdoor adventure lover. Hiking in the state of Vermont is incredible, and this school is filled with outdoor enthusiasts.

UVM even offers free rides to the nearby ski resorts during the winter months, and students are offered discount season passes. UVM also offers over 20 different environmental majors.


Bowdoin College

Location: Brunswick, Maine
Website: https://www.bowdoin.edu/

Bowdoin CollegeAbout The School

Bowdoin is another college with over 100 outing club adventures each year. Bowdoin is in close proximity to tons of hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail, white water rafting, climbing, and the ocean. The shores of Maine offer some incredible outdoor adventures as well. Maine’s mountains offer some of the most unique and incredible hiking on the east coast, like the beautiful Mount Katahdin, where students can find backpacking trips, day hikes, climbing, lakes, rivers, ocean, and much more. The college is also in close proximity to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, adding tons of additional hiking, trail running, and backpacking opportunities.


Dartmouth College

Location: Dartmouth, New Hampshire
Website: https://home.dartmouth.edu/

About The School

Dartmouth is known for one of the nation’s first outing clubs, where today, it has some of the largest membership when compared to other schools across the nation. And it is for good reason. Nearly a quarter of the student population, around 1,500 members, is part of this club, that has over 20 weekly trips for members to choose from.

Dartmouth has its own ski area 20 minutes away (Dartmouth Skiway), over 70 miles of Appalachian Trail is maintained by the College, and the town of Hanover, is a fantastic location for students looking to venture of campus for incredible experiences as well.

Located on the western side of New Hampshire, Hanover residents have easy access to central New Hampshire’s lakes region, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, fantastic hills nearby, as well as access to Vermont, and the gorgeous Green Mountains. This area is fantastic for hikers and skiers particularly.


Plymouth State University

Location: Plymouth, New Hampshire
Website: https://www.plymouth.edu/

About The School

Plymouth State University is an incredibly well located university for outdoor lovers. Nearby, you’ll find students cliff jumping and rope swinging into rivers all summer, fly fishing, hiking in the white mountains, taking backpacking trips, traveling to the nearby Lake Winnipesaukee or Squam Lake for a day on the water, and in winter, students will be skiing non stop, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and doing all types of outdoor activities.

The White Mountains and New Hampshire 4,000 footers are in close proximity, which is a hiker and trail runners paradise.


Northland College

Location: Ashland, Wisconsin
Website: https://www.northland.edu/

About The School

If you’re a true hiking enthusiast, you probably have a great passion for the outdoors in general, as well as nature and its preservation. Northland College is a ”liberal arts college with a progressive focus on the environment and sustainability’’ which means the academic programs, professors, and campus life are all focused on giving you the ultimate nature-loving college experience.

It’s located on the south shore of Lake Superior and next to nearly a million acres of national forest. This makes it another perfect fit for hiking lovers. There are hikes on Lake Superior that you can complete in a day, without packing the heavy backpack for staying the night. Also, you can choose a more complex and demanding hike such as the Towab Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Lake Superior offers fantastic kayaking opportunities, The Superior Hiking Trail, which is part of the student required “thirteen-day Outdoor Orientation trip”. With tons of nearby hiking, backpacking, biking, and kayaking opportunities, and a school that supports and even requires students to take part in these activities, this is a fantastic college for outdoor lovers.


Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Location: Ithaca, New York
Website: https://www.northland.edu/

Cornell UniversityAbout The School

Ithaca is another school that offers close proximity to a huge array of outdoor activities. Winter time for skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, and more, and summer for hiking, biking, trail running, backpacking, paddleboarding, fly fishing, and other great activities. The school sits only 30 minutes from Finger Lakes National Forest, is in a day trip length to the Catskills, and the Adirondacks, making the hiking and backpacking options absolutely incredible.

The school also features tons of outdoor clubs to meet like minded students and try other outdoor activities.


Western Schools In The U.S.


Western Washington University

Location: Bellingham, Washington
Website: https://www.wwu.edu/

About The School

Western Washington University is another of of those schools with a dream location for outdoor lovers. Some of the best skiing in the nation is located only 90 minutes away at the Mount Baker Ski Area, which also houses some of the most incredible hiking and backpacking for summer months. The North Cascades are located only 40 miles easy, which is some of the most stunningly beautiful terrain in the entire United States, and tide pools and the ocean or located just west of the campus. The extremely easy access to a massively diverse set of outdoor activities makes this school a must check out for any outdoor adventure lover.


University of California, Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California
Website: https://www.berkeley.edu/

About The School

With nearby proximity to Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and dozens of other highly sought after destinations, this school features trips for students all year to incredible places. The environmental and ecology programs are ranked extremely high nationwide, and students are encouraged to take advantage of the outing club and other available adventures. Being located close to the ocean also widens the potential scope of outdoor adventures.

Much like a large portion of the schools located in California, the multi-sport adventure lovers should strongly be considering this school as an option.


University Of Utah

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Website: https://www.utah.edu/University Of Utah

About The School

This schools is probably one of the best possible schools for skiers. Both backcountry, and resort skiing here is ample. The university has 6 different resorts nearby that students get discounts at that everyone should take advantage of. In the summer months, this area is also a hiker, trail runner, climber, and backpackers dream destination with endless hiking and backpacking opportunities.

The school knows this draws in students, and has tons of gear rentals for affordable prices, as well as planned trips students can join to gain experience.

In addition to this, the campus is gorgeous, and nestled literally at the base of stunning hills/mountains in the beautiful Salt Lake City.


Boise State University

Location: Boise, Idaho
Website: https://www.boisestate.edu/

About The School

For some reason, many outdoor lovers pass over Boise, and Idaho as an incredible outdoor location. This is changing pretty rapidly, because it is simply becoming impossible to miss. Incredible skiing, climbing, hiking, backpacking, fly fishing, rafting, and trail running opportunities exist all around Boise, making it an incredible location.

The school features a fantastic outdoor program with planned trips, rentable gear, and students will be surrounded by thousands of other adventure lovers in this area.


University Of Colorado, Boulder

Location: Boulder, Colorado
Website: https://www.colorado.edu/University Of Colorado Boulder

About The School

Boulder is yet again a climber, hiker, and backpackers dream. Within 5 minutes of campus, students can climb, hike, begin a backpacking trip, fly fish, and trail run. Because of this, it is becoming one of the most well known outdoor lover locations in the United States. With a fantastic outdoor program, gear rentals, planned trips, and education opportunities, it yet again is a must consider for outdoor lovers.

In winter, there are tons of skiing opportunities, and the weather in Colorado is generally pretty stunning year round.

The campus is located at the base of the ionic Flat Irons which gives incredible views from campus, but also just incredibly easy access to gorgeous trails and climbing opportunities.


Montana State University

Location: Bozeman, Montana
Website: https://www.montana.edu/

About The School

The campus at MSU is connected to trails, and students can actually hike or run directly from campus to some beautiful areas. Surrounded by mountain ranges for day trips or weekend trips, and located within an hour of 2 major ski resorts, Bozeman has extremely easy access to all types of adventures.

In addition to this, the campus is only 2 hours outside Yellowstone National Park, and dozens of other incredible areas. With an outdoor recreation program, students can join trips, get training, rent gear, and more with relative ease.


Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California
Website: https://www.stanford.edu/

About The School

Stanford University has one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in the world that any hiking-lover would enjoy spending time on. It’s surrounded by a 1,200-acre natural reserve that is owned by the University and used for research and students’ education.

But, that’s far from the only reason why it made it to our list.

Stanford is in a great position that allows students to go hiking in numerous locations nearby. From the Stanford Dish Hiking Trail to hikes in the Baylands Nature Preserve- you can go in any direction and find something worth the visit. Plus, you can take a couple of hours to drive to Redwoods, Yosemite National Park, or Mt Diablo. The close proximity to incredible outdoor destinations, plus the proximity to densely populated areas makes this a great mix of outdoor and urban lifestyle for many.


Colorado State University

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Website: https://www.colostate.edu/

About The School

CSU is another university that offers a rich set of outdoor activities that students can enjoy as a part of a club or individually. You can join the outdoors club or simply find hiking opportunities nearby. Luckily, you have a ton of options to choose between.

Horsetooth Rock, Rotary Park, Running Dear Trailhead, or the Reservoir Ridge North Loop Trail Head are just some of the many fantastic options you have within a 20-minute drive.

And, if you really want to make a day out of it, Rocky Mountain National Park is only an hour and 15 minutes away. At CSU, within two hours, students have incredible skiing, a national park, incredible hiking, incredibly fly fishing, incredible backpacking and hiking, a lake for watersports, and so much more.

Fort Collins itself is a beautiful town with great food and culture as well.


University of Wyoming

Location: Laramie, Wyoming
Website: http://www.uwyo.edu/

About The School

You won’t regret enrolling in one of the colleges at the University of Wyoming, since it’s another brilliant option for student hikers. So, what makes this university such a great choice?

There are two main reasons.

One, the University offers an Outdoor Leadership Development Series program for all students who love the outdoors. In a year-long program, students will learn how to lead others in a wilderness environment. Students will obtain a number of certifications and gain a set of useful skills.

The second reason you’ll love being a part of the UWYO is the fact there are many attention-worthy hiking trails nearby. We suggest you start with the Snowy Range Mountains, the Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge, or the Medicine Bow National Forest. You can team up with your fellow students and even take a weekend trip to some of these amazing spots for hiking lovers.

In addition to this, there is tons of incredible fly fishing nearby.


Outside the Contiguous U.S.


The University of British Columbia

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Website: https://www.ubc.ca/

About The School

While this school is outside the United States, we couldn’t not put it on the list. UBC features endless rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, paddling, bike-touring and all other self-propelled outdoor adventure opportunities. Located on the Straight of Georgia, UBC has water activities right there, but is also surrounded by stunning mountains, sounds, and lakes, which creates a backpacker’s paradise in summer, and a backcountry skiers dream in winter.

Even a trip to the U.S. for visiting North Cascades National Park isn’t that long of a stretch.


University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Location: Mānoa, Hawaii
Website: https://manoa.hawaii.edu/

About The School

Hawaii has incredible ocean sports, and this school’s access to that is impeccable. In addition to the ocean, the school is surrounded by mountains and ridges that make for some incredibly hiking, backpacking, and trail running locations. For those looking for a warmer client, and mixing in ocean activities, this can be an incredible option. There is a student organization for just about every outdoor activity you could imagine, and the ability to take courses and training on anything from surfboarding to hiking is possible.


The University of Alaska: Anchorage or Fairbanks

Location: Anchorage, Alaska | Fairbanks, Alaska
Website: https://www.alaska.edu/alaska/

About The School

When we say Alaska, every hiker in the building will get the chills just by thinking about the outstanding nature unlike anywhere else in the US. The state’s biggest university, The University of Alaska Anchorage, will allow you to choose between several colleges, located across the country.

You can find 300 miles of different hiking trails in Anchorage only. From the Byron Glacier Trail and The Reed Lakes Trail to the Williwaw Lakes trail- there’s something for everyone’s taste.

Plus, you can take a weekend trip to some of Alaska’s most popular hiking spots, such as the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway or The Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield hikes in Seward.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks also has amazing opportunities for hikers. There doesn’t need to be too much said about the benefits of living in a state like Alaska. Do keep in mind that winter season can be long and harsh, so loving the outdoors in winter months is essential. Whether it is backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, or some other activity, students staying in Alaska should love the cooler months.


Final Thoughts

As you can see, you have a lot of options to choose between. Depending on your specific needs and preferences, you’ll easily choose a college that ticks all the boxes for you- including hiking.

Have additional colleges and universities you think should be included here? Let us know via chat, or via the contact us page, and we will look into it, and potentially add them! Keep in mind that this is just a preliminary list as we know there are dozens of other schools that do deserve to be on this list. We also know that a lot of the universities we listed here have other higher education institutions very close by, making them great options as well.


Review & Editing Information

This article was co-written and edited by Max DesMarais, the founder of Hiking & Fishing. Max has hiked, backpacked, fly fished, and trail run across a large portion of the U.S., and is able to help identify what schools and areas represent a great area for avid outdoorsman and hikers.

Jessica Fender

Jessica Fender