Want to study hard and be on top of the world—literally?! Get a kick out of college life by heading on over to some of America’s most stunning hillside university campuses. Not only do they offer highly elevated lifestyles and breath-taking views of lush natural landscapes, but many of them also come with plenty of fresh snow, chances for hiking or rock climbing, and some of the most unique learning opportunities in the country—in an array of subjects ranging from sports conditioning research to astronomy research to geological studies.
Sometimes, just a little bit of altitude can redefine any four-year school experience, making it the perfect time to reflect, experiment, and grow on a personal and an academic level. What’s more is that you get to do it all alongside Mother Nature. So have an entirely different sort of educational and environmental experience at these top schools buffered by parks, natural reserves, and spectacular mountain sights. Here are nine college campuses with killer mountain views.
9 U.S. Colleges With Incredible Mountain Views
1. Lewis and Clark College - Portland, Oregon
Located on 137 wooded acres in Oregon’s southwest hills, this stunning campus is chock fill of beautiful gardens, reflective pools, and wondrous views of the distant snow capped Mount Hood. You and your pals are sure to feel at one with nature on this super outdoorsy campus, which, unsurprisingly, offers a College Outdoors Program that boasts a wide range of activities ranging from cross-country skiing, whitewater sports, and sea kayaking, to backpacking, riding, biking, and hiking—all through a broad range of habitats across the states of Oregon, California, and Washington.
Get into a West Coast mountain frenzy at this student favorite where club sport participation is always appreciated, as well as wild weekend excursions to the nearby city of Portland. Knock yourself out with cliffs, hills, thousands of recreational parks, and over 152 miles of interlocking trails.
2. Colorado State University - Fort Collins, Colorado
It’s a beautiful and multi-faceted college campus with not one but several awesome areas to check out, including: a 583 acre spot in central Fort Collins, a 1,438 hub in the Foothills, a 1,575 acre agricultural campus, as well as 4,043 acres in research stations and Colorado State Forest Service stations. CSU is also situated right at the foot of the infamous Rockies, about forty-five minutes outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s even adjacent to the Horsetooth Reservoir, which just so happens to be six and a half miles of luscious water that can be used for fishing, boating, swimming, skiing, scuba diving, or anything your heart so desires.
Nature loving students will indeed fall head over heels with all the chances for climbing, mountaineering, airsofting, Nordic skiing, skydiving, snowboarding, horseback riding, jousting, and long boarding, as well as the array of logging sports available, the wild outdoor club, and the famous Heisenberg Society (trebuchet builders). At an elevation of just about 5,000 feet, college bound kids can take full advantage of this truly picturesque locale—it’s also been ranked in the top five of Money Magazine's annual “Best Places to Live in the Nation” list. Plus, it’s always been recognized for its widespread green initiatives and uberly active local residents. Nature awaits, y’all!
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3. Middlebury College - Middlebury, Vermont
Housed within Vermont’s scenic Champlain Valley, with the Green Mountains to the east, and the Adirondacks to the west, this high quality campus, also known fondly by students as “Club Midd,” offers attendees with an idyllic university setting where learning often occurs outdoors. The institution also maintains numerous ongoing green efforts, including a vow to become carbon neutral by 2016, a sustainability initiative that includes a biomass gasification plant and an organic farm, as well as a school-wide recycling center and tons of super environmentally friendly buildings.
What’s more is that Middlebury houses almost twenty of its very own ski trails in its infamous College Snow Bowl ski area. It also plays host to the country’s oldest winter carnival, featuring live music and noteworthy ski competitions. Students can enjoy Nordic skiing, mountain clubbing, log rolling, fly fishing, trap and skeet shooting, as well as more traditional activities like cycling, crew, sailing, or quidditch. There are even ample opportunities to take short drives out to a variety of nearby state parks, including Branbury State Park, Chimney Point State Park, and Weybridge Care Natural Area State Park.
4. University of Wyoming - Laramie, Wyoming
Located just thirty miles east of the Snowy Range Mountains and Medicine Bow National Forest, and just ten miles from Banforth National Wildlife Refuge, this gem of a university is circled by federally protected land just waiting to be explored. One-of-a-kind sites like Lost Lake offer adventure seekers with crystal clear watering holes that are set comfortably amidst snow-capped mountain peaks stretching into the blue sky. The campus itself is also interesting, as it centers around the rough cut sandstone of “old main” (currently home to the University’s administration), and a large grassy area landscaped with Blue Spruce, Mugo Pine, and pathways called Prexy’s Pasture.
What’s more is that while sitting atop sea level at over 7,000 feet, this campus beauty is just minutes away from some of the finest ski resorts, Yellowstone National Park, as well as Grand Teton National Park. It’s the powerhouse for athletic students of all sorts, especially footballers, since the Bleacher Report reported in 2009 that the university's War Memorial Stadium is the country's highest elevated Division I collegiate football field (The report further noted that this extra ‘height’ may actually give UW's football players an edge over visiting teams who are not so accustomed to the thin air!).
So mozy on over to Laramie today to be fully surrounded by good old nature, all while taking a couple of cool non-credit classes in rock climbing, fly fishing, kayaking, skiing, safety, and mountaineering. The university also partners up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to offer students a broader array of unique courses to choose from.
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5. University of Colorado - Boulder, Colorado
It’s been deemed the ‘fittest’ town in the country and offers ample amounts of lush green space as well as a nice bit of urban sprawl. Almost all of Boulder is but a mere walk away from glorious trail heads leading to the Flatirons (five large rock formations on the front range of the Rockies), and it’s an incredibly fantastic town for running, biking, long boarding, or basically any type of outdoor activity you can possibly imagine. There’s also plenty of sunshine available-- and since it’s so very close to the good old Rocky Mountains, the 43,000 acre campus is ideal for those who adore summer and winter sports. Outdoor student organizations include everything from archery, beach volleyball, bocce ball, ski and snowboarding, sailing, running, climbing, disc golfing, shooting, skateboarding, skydiving, slacklining, and even chances to join a back-country club or a telemark club. What’s more is there are numerous national and state parks encircling the entire area. So why not take a break from all that hard studying by trekking out into the Rocky Mountain National Park? Or better yet, head further west to Arapahoe National Forest for lots of awesome skiing and watersport destinations.
As it sits proudly at a whopping elevation of 5,430 feet, this Colorado state’s flagship university truly is, according to its website, the most visually spectacular campus in the country. Plus, you and those pals can even catch a shooting star or two by checking out the telescope at the school’s Fiske Planetarium. For spectacularly out-of-this-world sights and minimal amounts of light pollution, CU-Boulder is the place to make the most out of the Rocky Mountains.
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6. University of Alaska - Fairbanks, Alaska
Sure, it may get super duper cold, but the 1,100 acres of largely forested land on the North Campus offers a whole slew of outdoor opportunities to enjoy—as well as hard-to-find-anywhere-else mountain peak views and a close proximity to the unique and wild Denali Wilderness where exploration awaits all who dare to enter. The school itself even offers an experimental farm, research opportunities with NOAA and the International Volcanological Field School, and a myriad of subjects/majors that help students take full advantage of Alaska’s vast natural wealth.
If you happen to need a break from classes or lectures, be sure to join in on all of UAF’s outdoor student organizations, such as alpine, cross country skiing, orienteering, disc golf, parkour, trails club, and archery, just to name off a few. Why not pencil in some rock climbing, white water rafting, or mountaineering to the local hot springs as well? Oh, and don’t forget to check out the stunning Aurora Borealis when pulling those all-nighters. And if all of that weren’t enough to entice you already, the nearby state parks of Steese National Conservation Area, Tanana Valley State Forest, and Chena River State Recreation Area further provide a wide variety of scenic habitats and fun activities to enjoy.
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7. Montana State University - Bozeman, Montana
Deemed the 2010 winner of Outdoor magazine’s “best town for skiing in the west,” this Montana ski locale is the state’s agricultural college and provides vast spaces of verdant surroundings, a true Montanan wilderness experience, as well as the infamous “valley of flowers” surrounding Bozeman.
Needless to say, the school is fully surrounded by mountain ranges and is embedded deep into the heart of nature. Most parts of town are also within walking distance of trail heads running all the way to Yellowstone National Park, which is just under a hundred miles to the south. Students and faculty alike can check out the University’s outdoor recreation center year round, which hosts rentals and regular trips to local destinations such as Glacier, Grand Teton, and of course, Yellowstone National Parks, as well as trips trekking a bit farther to Mexico, California, or even up into the Canadian Rockies! The campus is also home to the Museum of the Rockies, which features the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world. It’s easy to get inspired by science, nature, and history at this mountain college favorite.
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8. Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, California
As the largest land-holding public University in California, the 3,200 acre property located in Santa Cruz County is the perfect place for college bound kids looking to explore more of California. Along with Swanton Pacific Ranch, which is used by the school for teaching and research of rangeland, livestock, and forestry, Cal Poly also owns three other agricultural lands elsewhere. Plus, the main campus sits on top of Poly Canyon and offers beautifully scenic views unlike no other.
With a teaching philosophy urging for students to “learn by doing,” this San Luis Obispo school provides top-notch academics along with numerous fun activities to enjoy, including beach volleyball, climbing, fishing, sailing, and surfing, as well as horticulture, marksmanship, and a unique wildlife club. The campus center even offers twenty student led trips per quarter and a broad range of equipment rentals for a variety of outdoor trips. So get ready to hit the books and get into some major action at this centrally located Cali favorite-- it’s just twenty minutes away from the Pacific Ocean and three hours away from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. What are you waiting for?
9. University of Idaho - Moscow, Idaho
It may very well be one of the most scenic campuses in the western United States and was infamously designed by the same landscape architecture firm that designed the U.S. Capital grounds and Central Park in New York. The snazzy 1,585 acre campus is nestled between Moscow Mountain and the flowing hills of the Palouse region. It’s even got an on-site arboretum and botanical garden, as well as forty-six miles of trails in its home city of Moscow, which in itself, is great for outdoorsy folks.
Within the small town there’s a large population of environmentally-minded citizens who are always more than happy to help along with outdoor student events such as clubs and trips for hiking, biking, kayaking, surfing, logging, fishing, shooting, archery, polo, rodeo, skiing, snowboarding, and even outdoor leadership activities. Plus, parks such as Clearwater National Forest, Saint Joe National Forest, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest are just an easy drive away from the school. Idaho’s definitely the place to go!
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This article was written by Pamela Chan.