15+ Best Outdoor Education Colleges 2024

Best Outdoor Education Colleges

Choosing the right college can greatly impact your education and future career prospects. With so many options available, deciding which schools are the best for outdoor education programs can be overwhelming.

Outdoor education colleges offer unique opportunities for students to learn in natural settings and develop leadership, environmental stewardship, and outdoor recreation skills. These colleges often have specialized programs and experienced faculty members who can provide hands-on learning experiences in the great outdoors.

If you are considering pursuing a degree in outdoor education, it’s important to research and find the best colleges that offer quality programs and resources for students. This article will explore some of the top outdoor education colleges that provide exceptional education and training for aspiring outdoor educators.

What are Outdoor Education Programs?

Outdoor education programs are experiential learning opportunities in natural settings such as forests, mountains, or rivers.

These programs provide hands-on experiences promoting personal growth, teamwork, and environmental stewardship. Participants engage in activities like hiking, camping, rock climbing, and kayaking while learning about nature and developing important life skills.

These programs are designed to foster a deeper connection with the outdoors and encourage individuals to appreciate and protect the environment. They often focus on building confidence, leadership skills, and resilience through challenging outdoor activities.

Outdoor education programs offer a unique opportunity for participants to learn and grow in a natural setting while having fun and creating lasting memories.

Best Outdoor Education Colleges

Here below are some of the 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 various 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.

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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. 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 deep powder snow. For only $25 per trip, students can go night skiing at Bogus Basin Ski Resort every Friday from late January through mid-March.

Their outdoor program includes alpine and Nordic adventures, 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 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.

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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 occur.

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.

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Green Mountain College, Paultony, Vermont

Green Mountain College (GMC) is between Taconic and the Green Mountains in Vermont. It is 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 country’s most “green” universities, 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 can explore Chimney Point State Park, Bradbury State Park, and other state parks within driving distance.  

It 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 Middlebury students free hiking, boating, climbing, and winter excursions.  

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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 kayak the rapids of the Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers.

In the winter, you can ski and board at Bridger Bowl Resort and Big Sky Resort, 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 local ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and whitewater rafting tours 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 residents can rent ice climbing equipment, cross-country skis, avalanche transceivers, and whitewater rafts.

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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 great for hiking, kayaking, biking, skiing, fishing, and dog sledding.

All her first graders must 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.

Before graduation, the Superior Connection course students 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.

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Sierra Nevada University, Incline Village, Nevada

Located 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 most 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.

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 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 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 kayaking, birdwatching, rock climbing, and backpacking courses. We run a ski/board bus to Tahoe in the winter with an outdoor program.

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

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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. We also offer a Wilderness Welcome Tour for new students during the summer, including rafting, backpacking, canoeing, and inflatable kayaking.

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

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University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

The UA campus is bright, so bring sunglasses and a floppy hat. In this desert climate, the sun shines more than 300 days a year. 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.

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University of California, Berkeley, California

The University of California, Berkeley campus covers 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 and 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 residents.

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

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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 Flatirons and Mount Flagstaff trailheads.

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 all students classes in fly fishing, scuba diving, hiking and backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, and whitewater kayaking.

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

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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 located near the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountains, and the Willamette River. Over 24,000 students aren’t just out on the weekends; they’re 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.

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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 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 paddle daily. 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. Mount Sea and Mount Rainier are a short drive away if that’s not your thing.

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 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 on the college campus), Husky Rock, and Clyberry. 

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FAQs-Best Outdoor Education Colleges

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.


Many schools across the United States boast excellent access to excellent outdoor education programs. They are near several rapids, breathtaking mountains, lush parks, and urban hiking trails.

This makes them great places to explore nature to the fullest while obtaining a degree or training in outdoor learning.



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