Updated at: 13-03-2023 - By: Eden Wise


The mountains have always been a haven for the courageous, the hardy, the intrepid, and sometimes even the stubborn and the eccentric. Where are the universities for those who would rather strike out on their own, find their own way, or simply attend classes in the midst of the majestic and untamed? Mountain colleges across the United States are providing a home for the country’s creative class, which is drawn to mountainous regions from the lush Appalachians in the East to the rugged Rockies in the West. College Consensus has compiled a list of the top schools in the mountains for all you hikers, bikers, climbers, and skiers out there.

Best Colleges In The Mountains

Best colleges in the mountains

Appalachian State University

Located in the town of Boone, North Carolina, 95 miles from Winston-Salem and 100 miles from Charlotte, Appalachian State University is a public, coeducational research university with multiple campuses. Because of its location on a 1,300-acre campus in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State University draws a diverse group of outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year. Through its Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Fine & Applied Arts, Health Sciences, and the School of Music, the University provides access to more than 150 bachelor’s degree programs and 70 graduate degree programs.

Colorado Christian University

Colorado Christian University

Located in Lakewood, Colorado, only ten miles from Denver, Colorado Christian University is a nonsectarian Christian institution of higher learning. The 26-acre CCU campus is conveniently located near both downtown Denver, with its vibrant arts and sports scenes, and the Rocky Mountains, which offer opportunities for extreme outdoor adventure. Among the many resources available to the University’s 8,579 students are ministry hours, first-year discipleship groups, and student-led mission trips.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Fairbanks, Alaska, located a scant two hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, is home to the University of Alaska, a public research university. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is a land-, sea-, and space-grant institution with a 2,250-acre campus located just four miles from the heart of Fairbanks and within a fifteen-minute drive of numerous hiking and biking trails as well as snowshoeing and downhill skiing opportunities. There are 142 majors to choose from, an 11:1 student-faculty ratio, and endless opportunities for research and fieldwork in the surrounding wilderness for the University’s 6,000 students.

University of Nevada, Reno

Located in Reno, Nevada, the University of Nevada is a public, coeducational, land-grant research university. The University of Nevada has a beautiful 200-acre campus that is only 35 minutes from the Carson Mountains and 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe. The community and University of Nevada, Reno, have partnered to provide access to a wide variety of resources to the area’s 16,852 students enrolled in more than 460 programs.

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College is an Ivy League research university and one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded in the United States before the American Revolution. Originally established in 1769 with the goal of converting Native Americans to Christianity, Dartmouth has grown to become an integral part of New Hampshire’s academic and cultural landscape. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school with just over 6,000 students. Despite being a Carnegie Foundation research university, Dartmouth retains the “college” name to define its priorities. Dartmouth is one of the best mountain colleges in the United States because it is both highly selective and exceptional as an undergraduate institution.

With its location in Hanover, NH – one of the best small college towns in America, in the center of the Appalachian Mountains – Dartmouth is also a pioneer in student outdoor recreation. The Appalachian Trail runs straight through Dartmouth’s campus, but even before the App Trail was conceived, Dartmouth had started the nation’s first student outdoor recreation club: the Dartmouth Outing Club, founded in 1909. With more than 1500 students, and just as many non-student members, the DOC offers an enormous opportunity for fun, learning, research, and community service. The DOC also maintains 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail, making it one of the most conscientious colleges in the Appalachian Mountains.

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s original satellite campus, Cal Poly Pomona is now a fully-fledged member of the California State University system. Cal Poly Pomona, which was founded as a boys’ vocational high school, now boasts the second-largest campus in the California State University (CSU) system, complete with numerous gardens and the Voorhis Ecological Preserve. Among the best Western regional universities, Cal Poly Pomona also boasts a high return on investment (ROI) and a reputation for academic rigor.

Cal Poly Pomona is one of the top mountain universities in the United States, which might sound strange unless you know that Los Angeles County is home to some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Pomona is a California suburb located at the heart of the Pomona Valley at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains; from here, CPP students can easily reach the Angeles National Forest. Mt. Baldy, or Mt. San Antonio, is a prominent landmark in the area. The Outdoor Adventures program at Cal Poly Pomona features lectures and field trips to locations like the San Gabriel Mountains’ iconic Bridge to Nowhere. It is one of the finest mountain universities in California, especially for those who enjoy spending time in nature.

Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the country, exemplifies the ideals of a mountain college by its commitment to and support of the surrounding community and environment. Appalachian State University (App State) was founded in 1899 as a result of a grassroots initiative by the citizens of Boone, North Carolina to create a school for the education of future teachers in their town. Appalachian has never lost sight of that goal, and as a public institution with more than 18,000 students, it is still dedicated to serving the people and communities of the Appalachian region.

Appalachian is a top college for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the top 10 regional colleges in the South, according to U.S. News. A university in the heart of the Appalachians, in a town named for Daniel Boone, can’t be anything but exceptional. Whitewater rafting, hiking, caving, rock climbing, and everything else that can be done in the mountains around Boone are all part of the ASU Outdoor Programs, which emphasizes using adventure for education and personal development. Among its many Residential Learning Communities, Arizona State University also provides its students with an Outdoor Community, a place where those with shared interests in outdoor pursuits, learning, and leadership can congregate and get involved in service projects. Appalachian State University epitomizes the ideal of a mountain college by demonstrating how seamlessly rural culture can coexist with higher education. Appalachian is the gold standard when it comes to colleges in North Carolina’s mountains.

Western Carolina University

NC’s mountain colleges are among the best in the country. The University of North Carolina System, of which Western Carolina University is a part, is widely recognized as one of the best in the world. WCC was founded in 1889 as a private academy by citizens of Cullowhee, North Carolina, in response to a lack of quality public education options in the region. Because of its immense success, the community school eventually morphed into North Carolina’s first public normal school, preparing future educators to work in the state’s public schools, and Western Carolina eventually became a prototype for the state’s regional university system. As one of the best regional colleges in the South, WCC continues to prioritize Appalachian needs.

Western Carolina University, nestled in the foothills of the North Carolina Appalachians, is widely recognized as a premier mountain institution, and it is a major factor in attracting young adults to Cullowhee. The Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center and the Mountain Heritage Center attract researchers from all over the world to WCC, making it a hub for academic and recreational pursuits in the mountains. Base Camp Cullowhee, located in Western North Carolina, promotes outdoor activities by hosting classes and trips for rafting, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, and more. Western Carolina University is one of the best mountain schools in the country.

Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749 as a classical academy, making it one of the oldest universities in the United States. Named for both George Washington, whose endowment prevented the school’s closure in 1796, and Robert E. Lee, who served as president of the academy after the Civil War and oversaw its transformation into a liberal arts college, the building also bears the names of both men.

Western Kentucky University (WLU) has been around for quite some time, so it comes as no surprise that it is frequently cited as one of the finest educational institutions in the mountains and is ranked among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Forbes has also recognized Washington and Lee University for its impact on the job market, and the school’s enduring foundation and large alumni network ensure that WLU grads have extensive resources at their disposal upon entering the workforce.

Shenandoah Valley, one of the most beautiful and popular tourist attractions in the Appalachian Mountains, is where Washington & Lee University calls home, and the campus is home to many students who are actively involved in mountain life. Outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, and tubing on the many rivers and streams are popular among WLU students.

The Shenandoah National Forest, Shenandoah River State Park, the Appalachian Trail, and the Blue Ridge Parkway are just a short drive away, making them easily accessible to students. Washington and Lee University, which ranks highly among mountain and outdoor schools, encourages its students to forge meaningful relationships with nature.

Middlebury College

The town of Middlebury, Vermont, is home to Middlebury College, which was founded in 1800 and has been known as the Town’s College since its inception. Middlebury College is a haven for conservation, community service, and mountain sports enthusiasts. Location: In a valley between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks.

Middlebury is well-known for its devoted alumni, prominent local position, and positive effects, and is consistently ranked among the top ten national liberal arts colleges by publications like U.S. News. More than that, it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the mountains, and it has a strong dedication to the local community.

Middlebury puts a lot of money into preserving its mountain setting. The Middlebury College Snow Bowl is located on the Bread Loaf Mountain Campus in Ripton, Vermont, along with the world-famous Bread Loaf School of English and the annual Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Among its holdings is the Robert Frost Farm in Ripton, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Middlebury Mountain Club is a thriving student organization that has been around since 1931. They host annual trips where students can engage in activities like hiking, camping, rafting, and more. Everything comes together to make Middlebury one of the best schools for exploring the great outdoors and the mountains.

Appalachian State University

In many ways, Appalachian State University exemplifies what it means to be a college in the mountains by being deeply embedded in the community and committed to sustainability. The people of Boone, North Carolina, organized a grass-roots movement that led to the establishment of Appalachian State University in 1899 so as to bring higher education to a rural region that was just beginning to develop. Appalachian, now a public university with over 18,000 students, has maintained its original mission and remains dedicated to meeting the needs of the people living in and around the Appalachian region.

U.S. News ranks Appalachian among the top 10 regional universities in the South, making it a highly sought-after institution for those with an interest in the great outdoors. The town of Daniel Boone, located in the heart of the Appalachians, must be home to a university. With the intention of utilizing adventure for learning and personal growth, the ASU Outdoor Programs take students whitewater rafting, hiking, caving, rock climbing, and anything else that can be done in the mountains around Boone.

At Arizona State University, students who share an interest in leadership, education, and outdoor pursuits are welcome to join the Outdoor Community, one of several Residential Learning Communities on campus. Appalachian State University epitomizes what it means to be a mountain institution because it combines the values of mountain living with the values of higher education. Among North Carolina’s mountain colleges, Appalachian is the best.

Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University

When compared between different institutions, the North Carolina mountain colleges are consistently ranked highly. Western Carolina University is one of many prestigious public universities in the North Carolina mountains and a member of the esteemed University of North Carolina System. Back in 1889, when the Appalachians lacked many public institutions, the citizens of Cullowhee, North Carolina, saw a need for a community academy and founded WCC.

As Western Carolina expanded, it became a role model for the state’s regional university system and the community college trained teachers for the public school system. WCC is widely recognized as one of the South’s top regional universities, and its focus on serving the Appalachians has not wavered.

Cullowhee, North Carolina, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, is a popular destination for college students because Western Carolina University is widely regarded as one of the best schools in the country for outdoor enthusiasts. WCC serves as a hub for academic and recreational activity in the mountains, thanks to its location and the presence of institutions like the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center and the Mountain Heritage Center. Western Carolina also encourages outdoor recreation through its Base Camp Cullowhee program, which offers lessons and trips in rafting, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, and other related activities. One of the best mountain universities in the United States, Western Carolina University, is fixated on the mountains.


What are the top mountain colleges in the United States?

One of the best mountaineering schools in the country, Whitman College, has an extensive outdoor program that takes students all over the Blue Mountains and Washington State on a weekly basis during the school year to engage in activities like hiking, skiing, kayaking, ice climbing, and snowshoeing.

What are the Best Colleges near snowboarding Mountains?

In the winter of 2020-21, Rochester, New York, received 69.6 inches of snow. The University of Rochester is a top private school and is located near excellent snowboarding areas like Bristol Mountain. It’s common for ski resorts to reach capacity from late November to early April due to the influx of visitors during the season.


Due to its low population density, the mountain state region of the United States is home to numerous excellent higher education institutions. Schools from the states of the Mountain West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) were selected.

In addition to one of the largest public universities in the country, my list of preferred institutions also includes a small Christian university with fewer than 200 students. You can find both well-known and lesser-known establishments in this area. The following educational facilities were chosen due to their high retention rates, high four-year and six-year graduation rates, high student involvement, and high value.