15+ Best Outdoor Education Colleges 2023

If you love the challenge of climbing tough slopes or just love taking risks while navigating Class III rapids; or to learn about the region’s natural history, hike through pine forests, frolic among wildflowers, or enjoy the tranquility of a canoe trip on the lake, then know that there are a number of Outdoor Education colleges that will nurture your urge.

In many American universities, nature, and learning go hand in hand, and the natural world serves as a place for reflection, contemplation, and personal growth.

Many schools are located near parks, nature reserves, rivers, cliffs, and other beautiful natural attractions. These schools offer some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country.

To explore this aspect of college life so important to many students, we have in this writing, complied the best outdoor education colleges for you.

Best-Outdoor-Education-Colleges
Best-Outdoor-Education-Colleges

What are Outdoor Education Programs?

An Outdoor Education Program prepares you to work as an educator, trainer, or facilitator in a park, recreation facility, camp, or other outdoor facility. It includes instruction in leadership, wilderness survival skills, first aid, group processes, counseling techniques, environmental studies, rock climbing, high ropes courses, and recreational activities such as backpacking, kayaking, and canoeing.

Best Outdoor Education Colleges

  • Appalachian State University (Boone, NC)

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State University is surrounded by natural playgrounds. With some of the East Coast’s best mountain biking, caving, rock climbing, paddling, and other activities just an hour’s drive from his ASU campus, App State students will soon have a wealth of outdoor opportunities.

App State’s outdoor program offers a wide range of activities, from his backcountry cooking on campus to his 30-day international trips to New Zealand, Italy, and beyond.

For students who want to make outdoor education their career, App State offers her three different recreational management concentrations;

  • Outdoor Experience Education
  • Recreation and Park Management
  • Commercial Recreation and Tourism Management

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  • Berry College, Mountbury, Georgia

Berry College has one of the largest university campuses in the world, covering approximately 27,000 acres in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Their 16,000 acres of which include a wildlife management area where students can hike, bike, and horseback his more than 60 miles of trails.

If campus alone doesn’t satisfy your appetite for exploration, Little River His Canyon National Reserve, Talladega National Forest and Chattahoochee National Forest are nearby.

Outdoor recreation offers trails for mountain biking, rock climbing, white water sports, and caving. The Recreation Department also encourages students to learn outdoor skills by offering workshops such as knot tying, rope splicing, belaying techniques, and orienteering, to name a few.

  • Boise State University, Boise, Idaho

Located in the City of Trees between Idaho’s Rocky Mountains and the desert of the Great Basin, Boise is rich in outdoor opportunities. Boise and its surroundings are home to some of the best mountain biking in the country, where three rivers meet and sheer cliffs.

About 20 minutes from downtown Boise, students who love snow sports can find some pretty deep powder snow. Students can go night skiing at Bogus Basin Ski Resort every Friday from late January through mid-March for only $25 per trip.

Their outdoor program includes alpine and Nordic adventures as well as rock climbing, backpacking, and rafting.

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  • College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine

The college may seem small with less than 400 students, but COA’s community-oriented environment makes a big impact on the natural world. All students are encouraged to enroll in the Human Ecology major and create their own curriculum within loose guidelines.

No matter where you are on the COA campus, you’re just steps from the Atlantic Ocean and a short walk from Acadia National Park.

The COA provides all incoming students with an Acadia trail map and encourages students to explore the wonderful backyard park. Summer is full of swimming, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and biking, while winter is all about ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and cozy gatherings by the bonfire.

You’ll feel right at home surrounded by Bar Harbor people wearing their walking shoes all year round.

  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

This Ivy League school occupies its 2,300-acre site in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and is surrounded by a “canyon” landscape with numerous waterfalls, canyons, lakes, and hiking trails.

For a little more adventure, look to Cornell Outdoor Education (COE), one of the largest college outdoor programs in the country.

The COE offers 1st-grade introductory trips to the wilderness, teamwork training on the high ropes course, 2 amazing indoor rock climbing walls,  backpacking, canoeing, caving, climbing (wood, rock,  ice), hiking, Kayaking (sea and whitewater), guiding, mountain biking, skiing (cross-country and telemark) and more.

Ithaca is just a few minutes’ drive from the Catskills and Adirondacks, where many weekend trips take place.

The COE is also home to the world-renowned Cornell Tree Climbing Institute (CTCI). CTCI offers recreational tree-climbing trails not only locally in Ithaca, but also in remote Sequoia National Park, Costa Rica’s rainforest, and Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park.

  • Green Mountain College, Paultony, Vermont

Green Mountain College (GMC) is located between Taconic and the Green Mountains in Vermont. The college sits on 155 acres and features an organic farm, hiking trails, and swimming areas on the Poulteney River.

Green Mountain Adventure Programming (GreenMAP) offers complimentary student-staffed ski/snowboard, rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, and outdoor yoga classes. GreenMAP Rentals rents basic equipment to students for as little as $1 a day.

GMC is one of the most “green” universities in the country, not only because of its bright spring-colored landscape but because it practices sustainability. In 2011, GMC became the second university in the country to achieve carbon neutrality.

The university offers a variety of environmental-focused majors, including an impressive Bachelor of Arts in Wilderness and Outdoor Therapy that teaches students how to counsel mentally ill patients in an outdoor setting.

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  • Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont

Middlebury sits between her two major mountain ranges on the East Coast, the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Additionally, students have the opportunity to explore Chimney Point State Park, Brambury State Park, and other state parks within driving distance.  

It also owns and operates 17 ski/snowboard slopes and a large tree ski area at Middlebury College Snow Bowl. Ski races are held at the College Snow Bowl during the annual Middlebury Winter Carnival, the oldest winter carnival in the country.

The student-run Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) also offers free hiking, boating, climbing, and winter excursions to Middlebury students.  

  • Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Surrounded by five mountains, forests, and nature, Montana State University (MSU) has 15,700 students and over 225 academic programs. Bozeman is surrounded by the Bridger Mountains, the Tobacco Route Mountains, the Big Belt Mountains, the Gallatin Mountains, and the Madison Mountains, all within a 30-minute drive of campus by the Gallatin, Madison, and Yellowstone Rivers.

In summer, enjoy the region on a Mackenzie River cruise, or experience the thrill of kayaking on the rapids of the Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers.

In the winter, you can ski and board at Bridger Bowl Resort and Big Sky Resort, both less than an hour from Bozeman. Go cross-country skiing before class on Bozeman’s groomed public trails.

The year-round MSU Outdoor Recreation Program offers ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and whitewater rafting tours locally and in famous parks such as Yellowstone (just 140 miles from campus), Grand Teton, and Glacier National Park. Rock climbing and mountain biking trips to places like Moab, Utah are also available.

MSU has a fully equipped rental facility where students and local residents can rent ice climbing equipment, cross-country skis, avalanche transceivers, and whitewater rafts.

  • Northland University in Ashland, Wisconsin

Northland University is located in northern Wisconsin, near Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, and the Chequamegón National Forest. Northland is a great place for hiking, kayaking, biking, skiing, fishing, and dog sledding.

All her first graders are required to attend a 5-12 day outdoor orientation trip. B. Backpack the Isle Royale or Porcupine Mountains, sea kayak the Apostle Islands, and whitewater kayak the Wolf and Red Rivers.

The Northland location is perfect for outdoor adventurers, and the curriculum is even better for nature lovers. It is a 4-4-1 semester curriculum that combines environmental activities, liberal arts classes, and hands-on learning.

Prior to graduation, students on the Superior Connection course participate in month-long road trips and paddling expeditions around Lake Superior. This 1,800-mile journey includes stops at information centers and historic sites, as well as his four-day kayaking tour along the coast of the Superior Highlands.

  • Sierra Nevada University, Incline Village, Nevada

Located right next to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sierra Nevada College (SNC) offers two of the nation’s best and most important programs: Outdoor Adventure Leadership (ODAL) and Ski Business and Resort Management.

Like other university outdoor education programs, ODAL students spend the majority of their class time “moving through mountains, climbing granite walls, descending snow-capped slopes, and navigating river valleys.”

Unlike most programs, ODAL students are empowered by working with non-profit organizations, creating business plans, organizing events, developing curricula, and mentoring.

Needless to say, SNC is one of the top universities in the US for skiers and snowboarders. Diamond Peak is just minutes away from campus, and ten other major ski resorts are he less than an hour away.

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  • Stanford University, Stanford, California

Sanford is one of the West Coast’s most prestigious schools, has its own zip code, and offers a huge number of outdoor education programs in Silicon Valley. The entire campus covers 8,180 hectares, 60% of which is undeveloped and reserved for academic opportunities in land use and resource management.

In many courses, students participate in outdoor fieldwork directly on campus. The larger area includes Redwood National Forest to the north and Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks to the east.  

The student-run club Stanford Outdoors offers courses in kayaking, birdwatching, rock climbing, and backpacking. In the winter, we run a ski/board bus to Tahoe with an outdoor program.

For those in education, Stanford Outdoor Outreach Program students facilitate hiking, camping, backpacking, and mountaineering trips for seniors.

  • University of Alaska Fairbanks (Alaska)

This is the perfect school for all snow lovers. Located just hours from the entrance to Denali National Park, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) offers all 9,870 students many recreational and academic programs that take advantage of the region’s natural capital.

The North Campus is surrounded by 1,100 acres of woodland, and students can go cross-country skiing anytime, Tuesdays, or between classes.

UAF Outdoor Adventures offers mountaineering, ice climbing, dog sledding, ice fishing, glacier camping, and ski trails in the heart of the Last Frontier. During the summer, we also offer a Wilderness Welcome Tour for new students, including rafting, backpacking, canoeing, and inflatable kayaking.

Located close to the UAF campus, students can climb rock and ice on the outdoor climbing wall at night and ski/snowboard at Nanuk Terrain Park during the day.

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

The UA campus is bright, so bring sunglasses and a floppy hat. The sun shines more than 300 days a year in this desert climate. UA is located on 380 acres in the heart of Tucson, adjacent to Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park, and the Santa Catalina Natural Area.

The Outdoor Adventure Program offers a variety of excursions, including sea kayaking, rock climbing, canyoning, and Moonlight hikes throughout the region, including the Grand Canyon and Sedona Red Rocks.

The Recreation Center offers weekly bouldering technique and climbing fitness workshops on its outdoor bouldering wall. Students looking for a study break will love hiking the 4.5-mile Sabino Canyon Trail during the full moon.

  • University of California, Berkeley, California

The University of California, Berkeley campus is covered by 800 acres (over 65% of the campus) of undeveloped conservation land. Berkeley is an exciting city in the San Francisco Bay Area with plenty of outdoor and cultural opportunities, and more than 70% of the year’s sunshine.

Nearly all of her 37,600 students at UC Berkeley hike up to the “Big C,” the giant yellow concrete “C” in Berkeley Hills, for distant views of the campus and the bay. Berkeley’s Cal Adventures offers Yosemite and Big Sur backpacking tours, as well as gulf sailing, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and sea kayaking.

In addition to outdoor programs, UC Berkeley has notable environmental and ecology programs, including one of the nation’s top forestry programs.

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  • University of California, San Diego (California)

If you love water sports, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is for you. UCSD is home to the 24,000-square-foot Mission Bay Aquatic Center, one of the largest waterfront educational facilities in the world.

Each year, over 30,000 participants learn how to wakeboard, sail, surf, stand-up paddle, water ski, boat, kayak, and windsurf. The Aquatic Center also rents yachts, surfboards, wakeboards, windsurfers, and rowing gear to students and local residents.

On board MBAC, Outback Adventures offers surf trips along the California coast. But in terms of educational programs, UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography is one of the world’s largest research centers for ocean, earth, and atmospheric sciences. 

  • University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado

All his 32,800 students at Boulder College in the Rocky Mountains are true nature lovers, summer and winter. The CU campus is within walking distance of the trailheads to Flatirons and Mount Flagstaff.

Freshmen can attend one of three excursions, including his CU Mountain Fest, where students go horseback riding, inflatable kayaking on the Colorado River, hiking, and rock climbing.

CU’s outdoor program offers classes in fly fishing, scuba diving, hiking and backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, and whitewater kayaking for all students.

The program also offers teamwork training on high- and low-rope courses, as well as indoor climbing competitions in the 7,000-square-meter climbing hall.

  • University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon

One of his most bike-friendly campuses in America, UO allows students to rent bikes for a day or an entire semester. DIY bike maintenance shops have manuals, tools, and expert support, and can fix your bike for free. Plus, with eight bike repair stations on campus, there’s no excuse for using other modes of transportation.

The campus itself is an arboretum and is located near the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountains, and the Willamette River. Over 24,000 students aren’t just out on the weekends. Hiking, biking, and rafting in between classes.

The UO Outdoor Program makes the most of this landscape by offering surfing, climbing, and hiking tours. If you don’t like traveling, you can also become a trip initiator and create your own trip.

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  • University of Texas at Austin (Texas)

UT’s recreational sports division offers sport climbing, rock climbing, hiking, and caving SUP day trips, as well as overnight sea kayaking and backpacking tours in Colorado’s Bend State Park and Matagorda Island Nature Reserve.

UT also offers backpacking tours through the Grand Canyon and Big Bend National Parks, canoeing trips down the Rio Grande, and service trips to the Gila Nature Reserve.

Austin’s favorite swimming spots are Lady Bird Lake on the Colorado River, the headwaters of Barton Springs Pool, and Barton Creek Greenbelt.

Students also enjoy jogging on the hiking and biking trails and climbing Bonus Mountain to watch the sunset. Although this campus is located in the heart of the city, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore the beauty of Texas Hill country.

  • University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

The University of Utah sits on the slopes of the Wasatch Mountains in the “world’s snowiest” state. College students are keen on snowboarding and skiing, and the Utah Department of Transportation makes it easy for students to ride ski buses to the four largest ski areas in the area; Alta, Snowbird, Brighton,  and Solitude.

Home to America’s largest college rental company, The U’s Outdoor Adventures provides the gear you need for all of Utah’s infamous outdoor activities; Skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, and canyoning.

Students looking to learn new skills can take courses in rock climbing, river rafting, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, split boarding, snowshoeing, canyoning, and ice climbing taught by student volunteers.

They can participate in indoor workshops at the summit before doing multi-pitch outdoor climbing in one of Utah’s national parks and forests.

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  • University of Washington, Seattle (Washington)

Located in a prime location on Lake Washington, the University of California encourages students to go out and paddle every day. Adventurous students can join the college kayak club and kayak the surrounding waterways from Lake Washington to Puget Sound.

On the other side of Puget Sound is Bainbridge Island, where students can Mountain bike around the island and climb Douglas fir trees. If that’s not your thing, Mount Sea and Mount Rainier are a short drive away.

UWild Adventures offers rock climbing, mountaineering, whitewater and sea kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking, biking, and backcountry skiing/snowboarding instruction courses throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Gear Garage Rental Center and Waterfront Activity Center rent a wide range of outdoor equipment to students, including canoes and rowboats. WAC also allows students to store their non-motorized personal watercraft for a small fee.  

The campus is also home to three rock climbing facilities: Crags Climbing Center (one of the largest rock climbing facilities on the college campus), Husky Rock, and Clyberry. 

FAQs

What is another name for outdoor education?

outdoor learning, outdoor school, forest schools, and wilderness education.

What are the four zones of outdoor learning?

Areas to consider are fall zones, surfacing, access to shade, and the conditions of materials and equipment

What is forest school?

In the UK, Forest School is a child-centered learning process, providing learner-inspired, hands-on experiences in the natural environment.

Conclusion

Many schools across the United States boast excellent access to great outdoor education programs and have a number of rapids and breathtaking mountains, lush parks, and urban hiking trails.

This makes them great places to explore nature to its fullest while obtaining a degree/training in such outdoor learning.

References

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