6 adventure colleges you can afford

Studying and getting a degree are, of course, the most important parts of attending college. But that doesn’t mean academia can’t have its perks, right?

That’s where an adventure college comes in.

These schools demonstrate a deep commitment to outdoor and environmental initiatives, have high-quality outdoor programs and offer lots of opportunities for outside fun.

Not all are created equal, though, at least when price comes to mind. We did some research and found six adventure colleges whose in-state tuition is affordable enough for you to get wild.

Check out our picks, organized by strong suit:

Quality of outdoor programs


Western Carolina University
At less than $8,000 annual tuition, Western Carolina University has an ambitious goal for a small, rural college: to have the best outdoor program in the country. Base Camp Cullowhee offers gear rentals and adventure trips in the Southeast’s finest backyard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Base Camp Cullowhee aims to shape students into outdoor enthusiast machines by teaching them the skills necessary to get out and play without school supervision. From kayak-roll clinics to belay certifications to lead-guide development training, the program wants its participants to graduate as nature’s stewards and lifelong adventurers.

University of Alaska Fairbanks
Part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ mission is to provide its community with opportunities for active lifestyles through adventure in the state’s vast wilderness.

The school’s Outdoor Adventures program allows staff and experienced students to lead outdoor trips year-round. Trip leaders gain skills and certifications by taking classmates rafting down the Nenana River or hiking in Gulkana Glacier, among tons of other outdoor activities.

The UAF’s low tuition cost of less than $8,000 for the year earned it a spot on our list. The fact that the Outdoor Adventures program offers low-cost gear rentals doesn’t hurt either.

Southern Utah University
Think you might want to make a career out of leading an outdoor program? Then become an outdoor recreation major at Southern Utah University for less than $6,000 a year.

Gain the necessary skills and knowledge by taking courses like wilderness first responder and the geology of national parks — conveniently located within a stone’s throw from such esteemed land as Zion National Park.

Opportunities for adventure

West Virginia University
Believe it or not, West Virginia is where it’s at for some amazing time outside, whether it’s backpacking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, paddling the Class III Cheat River Canyon or rock climbing at Coopers Rock State Forest.

Nearly endless opportunities for adventure exist in the state, and the university is the place to get started for students, especially with a price tag of less than $8,000 a year. Check out the college’s Outdoor Adventure Club to learn more.

California State University, Sacramento
With more than 30,000 students, Sacramento State is huge. Its tuition isn’t, though, where less than $6,000 puts you in one of the best locations in the United States: right by Yosemite National Park.

There’s also Sierra National Forest, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, ocean surf — you get the idea.

Not sure where to start? The university’s Peak Adventures program pairs your outdoorsy attitude with expert guides, gear rental and transportation to some of the best mountain biking, caving and backpacking on the West Coast.

Commitment to the outdoors and the environment

adventure college
University of Tennessee students hike through one of the state’s wilderness forests during a fall backpacking trip — one of many the students take throughout the year. Photo: Courtesy of UT

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
As a research institution, the University of Tennessee is a living laboratory for environmental stewardship. UT Knoxville is always developing sustainable initiatives for campus construction and greening programs.

The latest project, supervised by the Committee on the Campus Environment, is a 25-year Energy Plan for UT in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The university also has its own Office of Sustainability, which works to organize and report on sustainability initiatives across the campus. Anyone looking for opportunities to study environmental programs, at a low cost of approximately $10,000 per year, should consider UT Knoxville.

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