Updated at: 17-03-2023 - By: Eden Wise


Whether it’s the Mighty Mississippi and the Great Lakes, or the streams, creeks, and ponds that give the map its patches of blue, rivers and lakes are America’s vascular system. It should come as no surprise that some of America’s finest universities are located on the banks of our rivers and lakes; throughout history, cities have grown up around lakes and rivers for transportation, drinking water, and recreation. College Consensus has used the Consensus method to rank the best colleges for outdoor enthusiasts and those who enjoy the freshwater lifestyle.

Best Outdoor Colleges On River And Lakes

Best outdoor colleges on river and lakes

University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame has one of the most illustrious football programs in American history, and it is widely recognized as one of the best undergraduate educations available at a private research university. Established in 1942, Notre Dame has become a regional powerhouse in the Midwest by raising the bar for higher education much like the Ivy League did in the Northeast.

Notre Dame is now a highly competitive institution, accepting only the most gifted students. Notre Dame is often called a “dream college” because of its welcoming and diverse student body and the strong sense of community that permeates the campus.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Established in 1848, the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a regional center for education and culture in the Upper Midwest. UW-Madison is a Public Ivy with a world-famous campus in a city that is beloved by college students from all over the country and the world.

Madison is the state capital and the second largest city in Wisconsin, but it is the University of Wisconsin that attracts tens of thousands of students each year.

University of Washington

When the University of Washington was founded in Seattle in 1861, the city wasn’t even officially recognized; it was still a small settlement in the Washington Territory. The Puget Sound ports were instrumental in Seattle’s rise to prominence as a commercial center, but the University of Washington is widely credited with giving the city its unique character. Together, they developed into one of the top duos on the West Coast. Even as Seattle has become a global leader in technology and entrepreneurship, UW has helped to nurture the city’s burgeoning professional class and vibrant culture.

Lake Washington, the Montlake Cut, and Portage Bay all border the University of Washington’s expansive campus, making it an attractive option for watersports enthusiasts. Being nestled between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, the University of Washington (UW) has a waterfront view that permeates campus life and the teaching and learning atmosphere.

Clemson University

Clemson University is the state’s public land-grant institution. It is the southern region’s premier institution for advanced study and scientific inquiry. The Carnegie Foundation and U.S. News & World Report both rank Clemson, which was established in 1889, among the best research universities in the country. Clemson is a land-grant university, so it has a strong reputation in the fields of engineering and agriculture. Because of its proximity to Lake Hartwell, one of the largest artificial lakes in the South and a perfect outdoor laboratory for studying natural resources, the university is also a leader in the fields of forestry and life sciences.

Cornell University

Cornell University

Cornell University emerged as the most forward-thinking and practically oriented of the Ivy League schools despite being the youngest and the only one not founded before the American Revolution. Cornell’s founding in 1865 was rooted in a commitment to the advancement of knowledge and service to the local community, and that legacy continues today. Cornell is deeply embedded in the culture of Ithaca, New York, and Cayuga Lake, which it overlooks from its location at the lake’s southern tip. Cayuga Lake is an important part of Cornell’s campus, and the university plays an important role in its preservation and protection through projects like the Cayuga Lake Modeling Project (which studies the effects of pollutants on the lake) and the Lake Source Cooling Project (which uses cold water from the lake’s bottom to sustainably cool the campus).

Cornell students enjoy time off on Cayuga Lake, the second-largest and longest of the Finger Lakes. Cayuga is one of the most popular lakes in the area, and many students and faculty members take advantage of it by going boating, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. The Cornell campus is nestled between the smaller Beebe Lake and Fall Creek, a tributary of Cayuga. Cornell’s campus is a popular recreation area for many communities in the region, with miles of hiking trails thanks to the massive Cornell Botanical Garden (covering more than 4000 acres in total) that provides access to the river and lake. Despite the warnings, Cornell students still swim in the icy waters of Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Gorge every summer.

Wellesley College

Wellesley College, one of the Seven Sisters that acted as the Ivy League’s female counterparts before coeducation, is consistently ranked as both a top women’s college and a top liberal arts college in the United States. Wellesley College has been heralded as “the most powerful women’s school in the world” due to its many successful alumnae and the numerous doors it opens for its students. Located in the heart of New England not far from Boston, Massachusetts, Wellesley is widely regarded as having one of the best small college towns and one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. This was a primary objective of the college’s founders, who hoped that the area’s abundant natural beauty would serve as an intellectual catalyst for their students.

Wellesley is known for its beautiful campus, which includes woods, meadows, and historic buildings; however, the private Lake Waban is one of the school’s most prized features. Nearly three miles can be covered by completing a loop around Wellesley’s Lake Waban, which is part of the campus’s extensive system of hiking and running trails. Canoes, kayaks, and sailboats are available for checkout from the Butler Boathouse, a historic structure renovated in 2015, for use on Lake Waban by Wellesley students and staff. Although Lake Waban is technically only accessible to Wellesley students and staff, it is frequently visited by locals, tourists from Boston, and people from other nearby cities.

Davidson College

Davidson College is a small liberal arts college in Davidson, North Carolina, and it is regularly included in lists of the Southern Ivies, the elite institutions that are considered the South’s equivalent to the Ivy League. Davidson, North Carolina, the town where the university is located, is located in the outskirts of Charlotte and is consistently ranked as one of the best small college towns in the United States and best college towns to retire to. Davidson is a growing city of over 13,000 people, and it is located close to Lake Norman, the massive reservoir built by Duke Power to provide electricity to the Piedmont region of North Carolina. With over 500 miles of shoreline and 50 square miles of surface, Lake Norman is the largest freshwater body in North Carolina and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the South.

The Lake Campus is one of the many unique features that set Davidson College apart. Davidson’s Lake Campus has been an integral part of the community for over 40 years. The Davidson College Lake Campus, located about 7 miles from the main, in-town campus, houses facilities for the school’s sailing and crew teams but is more popular for the recreational opportunities it provides: more than 100 acres, with swimming beach, boat slips, volleyball courts, and green space. Students keep returning to the Lake Campus for events like the July Experience and alumni reunions, which often include campouts and cookouts. With its beautiful Lake Campus, Davidson College is a top choice for eco-conscious students. The Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Mountains are within easy driving distance.

College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks

The College of the Ozarks, also known as “Hard Work U,” is one of the most innovative Christian liberal arts institutions in the United States. College of the Ozarks was established in 1906 by a Presbyterian minister with the goal of providing a high-quality education to economically disadvantaged young people in exchange for work. Although free work colleges were fairly common during this time period, the University of Oregon is unusual in that it has stuck with its free tuition policy long after most other universities have switched to a more traditional tuition structure. Scholarships, grants, and on-campus employment cover every student’s costs without them having to take on any additional debt.

College of the Ozarks is a Christian institution with a mission and curriculum centered on leadership, community, and service; this includes not only the work done at Hard Work U, but also service to the surrounding community and environmental stewardship. The long, river-like man-made lake of Lake Taneycomo, one of the most popular hiking and fishing spots in Missouri, can be seen from the C of O campus in Lookout Point. Not far away, in Table Rock Lake State Park, visitors can enjoy camping, picnicking, swimming, and boating on the larger Table Rock Lake. Students at one of the best colleges for the outdoors, College of the Ozarks, have no shortage of opportunity when they take a break from Hard Work U.

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME

Bowdoin College, a liberal arts institution located on 215 acres in Brunswick, Maine, has a long tradition of not only appreciating, but also investigating, the local natural environment. The school has a long-standing arctic studies program, and its polar bear mascot pays homage to Bowdoin alumnus and North Pole explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary.

However, not everyone at the school shares a preference for the Arctic. Schiller Coastal Studies Center is another Bowdoin facility that offers a wide variety of natural environments for study and enjoyment. More than a hundred trips are organized each year by the school’s Outing Club, and many classes make use of the Center and other nearby natural settings.

Students who are looking for outdoor activities to partake in during their free time have a plethora of options within driving distance of campus. White water rafting, rock climbing, and the Appalachian Trail are all possible in the area.

Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

Middlebury is located in Vermont’s beautiful Champlain Valley, between the Adirondack and Green Mountains. Some students and alums refer to the campus as “Club Midd” because of its picturesque location and high-quality facilities. Middlebury has recently revised its mission to include sustainability policies, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2016. This is in recognition of the college’s picturesque setting and the educational benefits provided by the outdoors. A biomass gasification plant, organic farming, a recycling center, and environmentally friendly buildings are all part of Middlebury’s sustainability initiative.

The College Snow Bowl ski area at Middlebury features 17 ski trails. The school also holds the oldest winter carnival in the country, complete with musical performances and a ski race. Skiing, log rolling, fly fishing, trap and skeet shooting, mountain club, nordic skiing, cycling, crew, sailing, and quidditch (and other more conventional sports) are just some of the many outdoor clubs available on campus. Chimney Point State Park, Weybridge Care Natural Area State Park, and Branbury State Park are just a short drive from campus for those who want to explore further afield.

University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

The University of Iowa’s Moscow, Idaho campus is aesthetically pleasing because it was created by the same firm responsible for the design of the United States Capitol grounds and Central Park in New York City. Located between Moscow Mountain and the rolling hills of the Palouse region is where both the university and the nearby town can be found.

The nearby trails are a popular focal point for many of the school’s outdoor activities, but those who aren’t interested can still find plenty to do. Around Moscow, there are over 46 miles of trails that can be explored on foot or by bike. You can go logging, archery, shooting, surfing, or any of a number of other outdoor activities.

There are both a botanical garden and an arboretum at the University of Idaho. This is a reference collection of plants that thrive in the Inland Pacific Northwest, and it is a testament to the region’s genetic diversity, in addition to highlighting the local flora. Although the event is taking place on campus, attendance at the university is not a prerequisite for attending.

Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN

The 13,000-acre “Domain” or “Mountain” that serves as Sewanee’s campus sits atop the Cumberland Plateau. About 1% of the domain has been built on, so there’s still plenty of room to explore hidden inlets, ancient forests, vantage points, and even caves. The 20-mile perimeter trail that circles the campus and traces the bluff is an excellent route to scenic lookouts or a strenuous day hike. Sewanee has been deemed one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States by Travel Leisure Magazine due to its stunning gothic-inspired architecture and natural setting.

Many different types of trips are available through the Sewanee Outing Program all year long. Student schedules often accommodate outdoor instruction on pleasant days, and degrees in fields like environmental studies, natural resources, ecology and biodiversity, forestry, and geology feature extended periods of study in the great outdoors. The University Farm and various outdoor clubs like canoeing, crew, cycling, disc golf, paintball, shooting, rugby, sportsmen, and ultimate guarantee that students will always have an opportunity to spend time in nature.


What Makes a College a Great Hippie College?

To many, the term “hippy” conjures up mental images of young, dirty people strolling around in Birkenstocks and tie-dye shirts while snacking on granola and chugging down a probiotic drink. Do you have some Phish on?

But being a hippie in the twenty-first century isn’t about getting high and sleeping rough. These students are the most active in campus political and public service organizations. Additionally, they are not shy about encouraging others to join their cause. Plus, they’re responsible for maintaining a culture of activism and social justice on their campus.

The “peace and love” philosophy of the original hippies of the 1960s Beat Generation is still shared by modern hippie college students, but they are now joined by new-age hipsters and eco-activists. Find the right college for you by looking for majors like natural resources management and environmental science, as well as extracurricular activities like a hiking club. Use the resources outside of the university to your advantage.

People who identify as “hippies” in the present day are typically well-educated, open-minded, and highly motivated to fight for the causes in which they believe. Considering the liberal inclination of most hippies and the fact that many of them enjoy spending time at the beach, it’s not surprising to find excellent hippy colleges in coastal locations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and northern California.

What is the outdoor program at Colorado State University?

The school encourages its students to get outside and participate in sports and outdoor activities by providing students with opportunities to go on field trips. The outdoor program also offers customized trips and workshops to help students prepare for their own adventures. In addition, the state of Colorado offers equipment rental services for students interested in exploring the state on their own.

What is it like to study outdoors at Williams College?

They even have a specialization in outdoor studies for those who find their true calling in nature. The outdoor programs provide students with the opportunity to borrow gear for activities such as ice climbing, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. Outdoor field trips and clinics are also available for students. Williams College is located in close proximity to the Appalachian Trail.


Time spent in nature is a great investment in your mental and physical health. This is no longer news to anyone. College students may find it challenging to spend time outdoors (and perhaps at parties) due to their heavy workloads. Many schools offer cross-country skiing classes or courses on identifying wild edibles so that students can earn academic credit while expanding their horizons.

Programs like these allow students to gain valuable knowledge while also providing them with a relaxing outdoor experience. Over time, however, I’ve seen how much of an impact these programs have had on the personal and professional lives of many of my classmates.

There are a lot of things to think about when picking out a college. The availability of outdoor activities and their programming should be high on your priority list as you contemplate a major life choice. If you want to work in the outdoors or just want to live in a beautiful area with easy access to outdoor recreation, these schools are worth considering.