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30 Great Small Colleges for Nature Lovers

Choosing a college can be difficult for nature lovers because it’s hard to find a school with the perfect balance between academics and outdoor activities you can enjoy. But there are plenty of small colleges for outdoor enthusiasts out there, and we’ve compiled a list of 30 great small schools for nature lovers.


This list of schools was created using information from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database as well as the individual schools’ websites. We started with a list of colleges that have student populations under 10,000. We then used a number of articles about both top schools and cities for nature lovers to narrow down the list. While choosing these schools, we considered: the number of outdoor-oriented sports, clubs and teams; the proximity to outdoor opportunities; the university’s green status; the campus and surrounding area; and the number of nature-focused courses/degree programs. Each school on this list is ranked by the number of points we’ve given it for being nature lover-friendly so that our No. 1 school has the most points and No. 30 has the least.

The point system works as follows:

  • 1 point for 1-4 outdoor sports teams; 2 points for 5 or more; 3 points for more than 10
  • 1 point for 1-4 outdoor clubs; 2 points for 5 or more; 3 points for more than 10
  • 1 point for 1-4 green initiatives; 2 points for 5 or more; 3 points for more than 10
  • 1 point for being in a city/town where outdoor opportunities are abundant
  • 1 point for 1-4 nature-focused degree programs; 2 points for 5 or more; 3 points for more than 10

30. St. John’s College

Santa Fe, NM

Points Awarded: 4
Student Population: 419
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8 to 1

St. John’s College is in Santa Fe, the second-oldest town in the country, which has “long attracted artists and free spirits looking to connect with the expansive high-desert landscape,” according to Outside Magazine. The city attracts even more outdoor enthusiasts because 12,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range are just 20 minutes away.

St. John’s in Santa Fe is a sister campus to the original in Annapolis, Md., and it borders with the Santa Fe National Forest. The school has one area of study: the Great Books program. According to the school’s website, “The liberal arts are at the heart of St. John’s College and its wide-ranging, interdisciplinary curriculum focused on the most important books and ideas of Western civilization.”

29. Bennington College

Bennington, VT

Points Awarded: 6
Student Population: 738
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8 to 1

Bennington College is so attractive to the free-spirited and nature-loving students of the world that The Princeton Review included the school as one of the best for “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians”.

Located in the farmland and woods of southern Vermont, Bennington has an average class size of just 12 students. The environmental studies program supports student research and internships during the school’s Field Work Term, which is an annual seven-week term that requires all students to work to gain practical experiences. The program also supports campus-based sustainability initiatives through the campus Sustainability Committee, enabling students to tackle environmental problems on a local scale.

28. Westminster College

Salt Lake City, UT

Points Awarded: 6
Student Population: 3,108
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9 to 1


Westminster College in Salt Lake City, is near seven ski resorts, mountain hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing and world famous national parks, state parks and a national forest. Salt Lake City is also home to the largest outdoor-focused convention in the nation, the Outdoor Retailer Expo. According to the school’s website, just about any outdoor activity is easily accessible from campus. Westminster is also the Official Provider of Educational Services for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Teams.

With the help of the campus Environmental Center and the Campus Sustainability Task Force, Westminster prizes sustainability. Based on information collected, the school is rated Silver in the STARS (Sustainability Tracking and Rating System) program. The campus is also aiming for climate neutrality and is the first college in Utah using on-site solar power.

27. Southern Oregon University

Ashland, OR

Points Awarded: 6
Student Population: 5,992
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 18 to 1

There are five world-class whitewater rivers within just two hours of Southern Oregon University’s campus in Ashland. Plus, the town is surrounded by three 5,000-plus-foot mountains. According to Outside Magazine, “Hardly anyone graduates without paddling southern Oregon’s whitewater, hiking the 2.3-mile White Rabbit Trail, or snowboarding or skiing at 7,530-foot Mount Ashland.” The Klamath-Siskiyou Region is known as one of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the world.

Academically, Southern Oregon takes advantage of its local natural resources, offering students several field-oriented classes like Geology of the Rogue River. Students can major in ecology, organismal and field biology, environmental studies and outdoor adventure leadership.

26. Brevard College

Brevard, NC

Points Awarded: 7
Student Population: 701
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11 to 1

Brevard College is just three miles from the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The small town of Brevard is considered a “haven of upscale Appalachia,” according to Outside Magazine, where Brevard grads can’t seem to find the heart to move away.

One-eighth of the student body earns a BA in wilderness leadership and experiential education (WLEE), which the school dubs “an outdoor leadership program like no other in the nation.” However, don’t fret if you’re a nature lover non-WLEE major—you can still participate in the Voice of the Rivers, a semester-long paddling expedition down a major river.

25. Prescott College

Prescott, AZ

Points Awarded: 7
Student Population: 943
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9 to 1

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Prescott College is based in a mountain town where rock climbers flock for trad and sport climbing on Granite Mountain; the town of Prescott has an elevation of 5,347 feet. According to Outside Magazine, 60 percent of Prescott students—who self-design their curriculum—choose environmental studies or adventure education. The school also operates a marine research station in Bahia Kino, Mexico.

If you’re a nature lover who likes the sound of majoring in adventure education, Prescott’s website explains, “An Adventure Education graduate may be found guiding clients safely up a vertical rock face, forecasting avalanche dangers at a Forest Service avalanche center, piloting a raft on a whitewater river to monitor ecosystem health, or managing logistics and field risks while scientists work on a remote ice cap.”

24. Berea College

Berea, KY

Points Awarded: 7
Student Population: 1,623
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11 to 1

Berea College is home to an Ecovillage, providing an ecologically-sustainable residential and learning complex and a living/labor opportunity for students interested in sustainability. The village is working toward the goals of 75 percent reduction in energy and water use and a 50 percent reduction in solid waste.

Students can choose among nature-related degree programs like agriculture & natural resources and sustainability & environmental studies.

23. College of the Atlantic

Bar Harbor, ME

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 370
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1


The College of the Atlantic is said to live and breathe sustainability. The few hundred students at this school are all enrolled in human ecology, which is the study of our species’ relationship to the planet. It was the first school to go completely carbon-neutral in 2007. The school’s teaching methods largely consist of field-based learning and community involvement, making it impossible to stay indoors. The campus is situated in the Mt. Desert Island, which is covered by the Acadia National Park. It surrounds two organic farms and two off-shore island research stations.

Incoming students can participate in the school’s many outdoor orientation programs–which explore Maine’s wilderness with rock climbing, sailing, kayaking, diving and more. Although the school only offers the one major in human ecology, students personalize that major by choosing different classes in subjects like animal behavior or jazz, rock and blues.

22. Northland College

Ashland, Wis.

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 552
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

Northland College has a distinctive environmental liberal arts curriculum with a beautiful natural location for nature-loving students to achieve their goals. According to Her Campus, a typical student at this school is described as a “friendly ‘environmentalist tree-hugger’ with a penchant for activism and outdoor activities. A student’s experience at Northland actually begins with a required Outdoor Orientation trip, which consists of five- to- 12-day adventures with kayaking, sailing, camping, astronomy-themed backpacking and more.

Northland works with the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute to promote stewardship, identify opportunities, deliver educational programs and facilitate solutions that address environmental issues. The sustainability advances of this school are beyond most on this list.

21. Alaska Pacific University

Anchorage, AK

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 669
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8 to 1

While Anchorage offers students a vast base of exploration in the Alaskan wilderness, Alaska Pacific University promotes responsible stewardship of the environment through its “Active Learning” program. Students can study the state’s terrain and wildlife through this program with hands-on interactions with their natural surroundings. And Alaska Pacific offers a variety of nature-related majors and minors, like marine biology, outdoor studies, sustainability studies, Earth sciences and environmental science. In fact, five out of the seven undergraduate degree programs deal with nature.

On the school’s 175-acre campus, students can connect to the Anchorage Trail System, which provides 5 km of continuous trails and includes Hillside/Service, Bicentennial Park, Chester Creek Greenbelt, the Coastal Trail and Kincaid Park.

20. Sierra Nevada College

Incline Village, NV

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 955
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 15 to 1

According to Sierra Nevada College’s website, “If you want to get out and explore, there will be no shortage of opportunities here.” Set in the Lake Tahoe Basin, students have a large array of outdoor recreational opportunities at their hands, such as rock climbing, beach volleyball, backpacking, sailing, stand up paddle boarding, amateur archaeology, wildlife observation and much more. The school’s alpine teams have earned over 50 USCSA National Championships.

Based in a “living lab of granite walls, river gorges, and mountain peaks,” Sierra Nevada College incorporates the outdoors into its curriculum, especially in the biology, environmental policy and environmental science & ecology majors.

19. Hampshire College

Amherst, MA

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 1,492
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11 to 1

Hampshire College is a part of a five-college consortium and is propelling several sustainability initiatives, including a “living” building, a Sustainability Revolving Fund (SURF), an electric car station, and many more. Hampshire’s outdoor program provides students with the opportunity to rock climb, ski, kayak, hike, whitewater raft, and much more. The program also offers weekend outdoor adventure trips.

Fun fact: The school’s radio station broadcasts out of a yurt, located in the middle of a wooded area on campus.

18. Bard College

Annandale-On-Hudson, NY

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 2,355
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

Students refer to the location of Bard College as “out in the middle of the woods,” though the school is just 90 miles from New York City. According to the school’s website, Bard believes that “the next generation of leaders will require unprecedented environmental expertise.” As a result, Bard offers undergraduate, graduate and dual-degree programs in environmental science and policy. Students and faculty take part in sustainability initiatives, such as farming on-campus, recycling and conservation, green buildings and energy efficiency.

The surrounding Hudson River Valley also provides numerous outdoor recreational opportunities.

17. Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 2,474
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 7 to 1

Wellesley College’s campus is filled with meadows, 15 greenhouses, woodlands and Lake Waban. This women’s liberal arts college is considered one of the most beautiful colleges in America because of the nature and magnificent architecture of many of the buildings. The school hosts a number of environmental organizations, such as a co-op, student-run restaurants, and organic farm and Wellesley Energy and Environmental Defense.

Within a short drive from campus, students can access a multitude of parks like Elm Bank and Noanet Woodlands, as well as several lakes and rivers. For nature lovers who enjoy all seasons, Wellesley is the ideal college.

16. University of Alaska-Fairbanks

Fairbanks, AK

Points Awarded: 8
Student Population: 9,166
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8 to 1

The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ backyard is “the vast environmental laboratory of Alaska,” with the entrance to the Denali Wilderness just a few hours away. On campus, students have access to 1,100 of forested acres that provide valuable research, education and recreation activities. Students are also able to work on an experimental farm, as well as conduct research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Volcanological Field School.

Through the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the School of Natural Resources and Extension, students have various opportunities to turn their love for nature into a career.

15. Green Mountain College

Poultney, VT

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 840
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 14 to 1

Within the 155 acres of Green Mountain College’s campus, students will find an organic farm, a ropes course, and many hiking and biking trails. This college’s curriculum revolves around nature with undergraduate majors like adventure education, animal conservation & care, environmental studies, natural resources management, renewable energy & ecological design, sustainable agriculture & food production, and wilderness & outdoor therapy.

If choosing one of those majors is not enough to satisfy your love for nature, you can join any of the many outdoor trips and clubs, such as the outdoor recreation alliance, skate club, Farm Crew, equestrian, the ski shop and more.

Green Mountain became the second college in the nation to become carbon neutral in 2011 after installing a biomass plant, a wind turbine and solar panels.

14. Warren Wilson College

Swannanoa, NC

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 893
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

One of the more popular majors at Warren Wilson College is outdoor leadership, which includes courses such as history and philosophy or outdoor adventure education, wilderness first responder, backcountry skills and techniques, and more. The beautiful views of mountains, 275-acre working farm, market garden, and 625-acre managed forest provide plenty of outlets for all nature lovers. Students are also able to work outside on campus with the GIS lab, farm crew, forestry crew, garden crew, and the landscaping crew.

The college is located within the same region as the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, hot springs and provide many opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing and whitewater activities. The Princeton Review dubbed Warren Wilson the top green college in the South for its emphasis on nature conservation both in and outside of the classroom.

13. Davidson College

Davidson, NC

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 1,788
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

Davidson College offers plenty of outdoor opportunities for students to take a break from the rigorous academics of the college. Students can stroll through the picturesque 665-acre main campus, check out the 100-acre arboretum–which hosts thousands of species, or walk up the road to the 110-acre lake campus. The school offers outdoor student organizations like sailing, crew, equestrian, water skiing, boating and swimming.

Environmental studies students can travel to other states like Colorado for research and experiences beyond the classroom. Local to campus are Lake Norman, Lake Norman State Park, Fisher Farm Park and nature preserves at Stephens Road and Rural Hill.

12. Bates College

Lewiston, ME

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 1,791
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

Bates College is yet another scenic college in Maine, with eco-friendly campus policies and environmental action programs for students. The school offers majors in biology, environmental studies, and geology. The environmental studies students are able to interact with the natural environment during class labs.

11. Oberlin College

Oberlin, OH

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 2,911
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9 to 1

Oberlin College is committed to environmental sustainability, offering sustainable student housing and serving locally-grown products in the dining halls. In 2005, students and faculty created a web-based system that enables them to continually monitor the energy and water used in dorms. The campus also boasts the state’s largest solar array and hosts various green buildings, like the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. Among the many green advances Oberlin’s campus buildings are taking, the Lewis Center is home to a model “living machine,” which processes waste water through a plant-and bacteria-based filtration system.

The school’s bike co-op on campus allows students to rent bikes for the semester to enjoy their rides from class to class.

10. Fort Lewis College

Durango, CO

Points Awarded: 9
Student Population: 4,021
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 21 to 1

Fort Lewis College resides in the town of Durango, which includes the Animas River and the Colorado Trail that leads to the Denver. Students can major in adventure education, environmental studies, as well as Native American and indigenous studies.

The school’s Outdoor Pursuits program is said to be one of the premier collegiate outdoor programs in the nation, which strongly encourages both domestic and international travel. The outdoor trips offered through Pursuits include a relaxing day hike in the mountains surrounding Durango, rock climbing one of the world’s tallest peaks and more.

9. Colorado College

Colorado Springs, CO

Points Awarded: 10
Student Population: 2,061
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10 to 1

Students at Colorado College get to enjoy the view of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs’ western skyline. With 300 days of sunshine each year, nature enthusiasts have plenty of time to explore and enjoy the nearby Garden of the Gods, Front Range Fourteener and South Platte River. Campus is also within three hours of 10 ski resorts and under a day’s drive of seven national parks. The college utilizes its surroundings through real-life student interaction such as allowing field zoology students seek elk in Rocky Mountain National Park.

At Colorado College, students have the option to take one class at a time through the Block Plan. Each class lasts three- to four weeks at a time, and students are able to truly dive into the subject because classes are small, hands-on and highly focused. Block students get to search the skies during evening labs in the Barnes observatory or traverse the natural wonders of the Southwest as a field archaeologist.

8. Williams College

Williamstown, MA

Points Awarded: 10
Student Population: 2,150
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 7 to 1

Williams College is located in a North Berkshire valley, through which the Green and Hoosic rivers run. The Appalachian Trail picks up just five miles east of town. The College owns the 2,200-acre Hopkins Memorial Forest located next to the campus. The forest has more than 15 miles of trails for runners and hikers. The Williams Outing Club has a mission to support outdoor activities while making the outdoors accessible to everyone, regardless of experience. The largest student organization at Williams with over 750 members, the club offers events, trips and activities throughout the year such as regular sunrise hikes, polar bear swims, campouts, indoor climbing and more.

At Williams College, it is popular among geology and biology majors to take on a concentration in environmental studies, but the school also offers majors in environmental policy and environmental science.

7. Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT

Points Awarded: 10
Student Population: 2,495
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9 to 1

Middlebury College, in Vermont’s Bread Loaf mountain region, features 500 miles of hiking trails, single-track biking trails in Branbury State Park and cross-country ski routes. Because of the beautiful surroundings and the high-quality buildings on campus, some students and alumni refer to this school as “Club Midd.” Middlebury incorporates sustainability policies, such as a biomass gasification plant, organic farming, a recycling center, environmentally-friendly buildings and a promise to become carbon neutral by 2016.

Students can take advantage of the many outdoor clubs available, such as log rolling, fly fishing, Nordic skiing, sailing and mountain club. Middlebury is also home to the oldest undergraduate environmental studies program in the U.S.

6. Lewis & Clark College

Portland, OR

Points Awarded: 10
Student Population: 3,521
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11 to 1

Students at Lewis & Clark College have access to beautiful gardens, a reflective pool and views of the distant snow-covered Mount Hood, all from the comfort of campus. The city of Portland offers much more in trails, biking and thousands of acres of parks. Through the College Outdoors program, students can go cross-country skiing, backpacking, sea kayaking, hiking and more. Students can also participate in the campus clubs and organizations that take advantage of the school’s location, such as sailing, river rafting and caving.

Lewis & Clark is ranked No. 1 by The Princeton Review’s list of “Top 50 Green Colleges.” Students have the option to major or minor in environmental studies.

5. The Evergreen State College

Olympia, WA

Points Awarded: 10
Student Population: 4,398
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 23 to 1

The Evergreen State College lives up to its name, landing itself on just about any list you’ll find for top schools for nature lovers. The campus is set on over 1,000 acres of forest next to the Puget Sound, where students can escape the woods for a day at the beach. If the local hiking trails, beaches, bike paths, kayaking, etc. aren’t enough, Olympic National Park is just one hour north. The campus hosts an organic farm that provides food for the cafeteria, buys 100 percent clean power and is trying out electric vehicles.

The nature-based degree programs, clubs, organizations and sports are abundant. The school even offers reservation-based study programs, which provide students with the opportunity to live and work in tribal communities.

4. Sewanee – The University of the South

Sewanee, TN

Points Awarded: 11
Student Population: 1,701
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11 to 1

The University of the South’s campus consists of 13,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau, which “invites students to engage in both a multitude of outdoor activities and careful study of the natural environment.” About 1,000 acres of the campus—known as the “Domain” or “Mountain”—are actually developed. The rest of the land consists of coves, old growth forests, look-out points and caves. Students can hike the 20-mile perimeter trail that circles campus, or explore off-campus through the Sewanee Outing Program’s hundreds of guided trips year round.

While many of the classes on campus take time to have class outside on nicer days, majors like environmental studies, natural resources, ecology and biodiversity, forestry and geology offer much more outdoor learning experiences. If you’re not interested in getting involved in an outdoor sporting activity, the University Farm offers other opportunities to spend your time outside productively.

3. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

Points Awarded: 11
Student Population: 1,795
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9 to 1

Although Bowdoin College’s main campus consists of 215 beautiful acres in Brunswick, Maine, students in the oceanographic program can work eight miles away at the Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island. And non-oceanographic students are given the opportunity to spend time outdoors because many of the college’s classes involve working in the field.

Bowdoin also hosts a large variety of outdoor clubs, including the school’s Outing Club, which takes students on more than 100 excursions a year near and away from campus. White water rafting, climbing and hiking on the Appalachian Trail are just a few examples of nearby outdoor excursions. Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary and Bradbury Mountain State Park are also close enough to campus for students to enjoy inland and coastal sites.

2. Berry College

Mount Berry, GA

Points Awarded: 11
Student Population: 2,223
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 12 to 1

Berry College’s campus is the world’s largest at 27,000 acres, 16,000 of which are a Wildlife Management Area. Within that space, students have access to over 40 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The entire campus is considered an outdoor classroom and research laboratory to the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. According to the school’s webpage, “Berry has begun to establish itself as a world-class destination for studying the environmental sciences.”

The Berry Outdoor Leadership Development Program (BOLD) is an arm of the school’s Office of Student Affairs, which offers activities and classes like mountain biking, rock climbing, ropes courses, whitewater sports, cave leaderships and training in safety, leadership and first aid.

If this massive, nature-filled campus isn’t enough, students can get to Johns Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Talladega National Forest, and the Chattahoochee National Forest in a short drive.

1. Humboldt State University

Arcata, CA

Points Awarded: 12
Student Population: 8,293
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 21 to 1


Humboldt State University offers a Marine Lab, an on-campus fishery and one of the most diverse greenhouses in California. Students only have to travel a few minutes away from campus to access the Redwood National Forest, the NorCal coast beaches and mountains to climb and hike. Organizations within the university provide opportunities for students to ski, rock climb, surf and participate in many other outdoor sports, such as logging.

The school’s programs in natural resources and sciences are nationally-known, and according to the school’s website, “students find a long-standing commitment to social and environmental responsibility” throughout the curriculum. The nature-related education opportunities are endless and include certifications in swiftwater rescue, wilderness first response and wildfire management, as well as the chance to study with the world’s foremost expert on redwood trees and leading experts in sustainable energy systems. Some of Humboldt’s recent rankings include a top “Green College” by the Princeton Review and a “Top Vegan-Friendly School” by PETA.

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