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Adventure Colleges In The Blue Ridge

Thirty-two colleges competed in our 2017 Top Adventure College Contest and battled head to head in a bracket-style tournament between small and big schools. After 150,000 votes poured in, these cool schools emerged as the top eight most adventurous colleges in the Blue Ridge.

#1 Western Carolina University

Student body: 10,805

Outdoor-related degrees(s): Parks and Recreation Management (BS and minor), Recreational Therapy (BS and minor)

Tuition: $7,027 (In-state) $17,420 (Out-of-state)

Hitting the top of our list for the fourth year in a row, Western Carolina University offers a combination of excellent location, renowned outdoor-related academics, and top-notch outdoor recreational facilities. “You can hike or mountain bike on more than 7 miles of trail or go fishing on Cullowhee Creek, test your skills on a climbing wall, all without leaving campus,” says Geoff Cantrell, who works in the Office of Communications and Public Relations. Surrounding campus are the Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

#2 Sweet Briar College

Student body: 320

Outdoor-related degrees(s): N/A

Tuition: $36,520

Sweet Briar’s 3,250-acre campus is home to 18 miles of hike/bike/horse riding trails, a lake and boathouse, and every barn and field needed to support one of the best equestrian programs in the country. Away from main campus is a primitive outing cabin where students kick it Thoreau-style— bunks, cast-iron wood stove, and the great outdoors. Alumnae Mariah Skalka recalls, “There’s so much land to explore and woods to get lost in, I never felt like I could see it all. There was always some new place I hadn’t discovered yet.” The Sweet Briar Outdoor Program paddles the James River, skis at Wintergreen in the winter, and backpacks, rafts, and rock climbs year-round.

Maryville College

Student body: 1,197

Outdoor-related degrees(s): Outdoor Studies and Tourism (B.A. and minor)

Tuition: $33,402

Maryville College students can earn up academic credits for their adventure.s One credit is earned for every five outings, which could be anything from hiking in the Smoky Mountains to kayaking down the Little Tennessee River. On campus, students climb the towering 55-foot Alpine Tower and boulder in the climbing cave. Maryville’s Outdoor Studies and Tourism curriculum teaches everything you need to know to get you teaching and guiding in the outdoors, which includes a Wilderness Emergency Responder course and a nine-credit internship.

Liberty University

Student body: 15,000

Outdoor-related degrees(s): Camp and Outdoor Adventure Leadership (B.S.)

Tuition: $22,880

Liberty is an epicenter of ultrarunning. Ultrarunning legend Dr. David Horton teaches an advanced running class in which students are required to complete an ultramarathon. Of course, the region has more to offer than just running trails. The Peaks of Otter, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a plethora of fine hiking trails are less than an hour from Lynchburg. “I love that there are so many places to hike close to campus and kayaking on the James River or mountain biking around Lynchburg always makes for a great time,” says Senior Cara Hartley. “Liberty possesses a sweet Christian atmosphere that makes it special and unique. It truly is a home away from home.”

Roanoke College

Student body: 2,060

Outdoor-related degrees(s): N/A

Tuition: $41,110

Previously on Princeton Review’s list of the top 20 most beautiful campuses, Roanoke College is quaint at 80 acres and has more than enough trees to set up a slackline. The Outdoor Adventures program leads weekly mountain biking, hiking, caving, whitewater rafting, or hang gliding adventures. The college encourages incoming freshman to participate in Journey, a pre-orientation program that introduces new students to both college life and the bustling outdoor recreation scene in the Roanoke Valley. Typical Journey activities include mountain biking on the Virginia Creeper Trail, whitewater rafting on the New or Gauley rivers, and hiking Mount Rogers in Grayson Highlands State Park.

Virginia Tech

Student body: 33,170

Outdoor-related degrees(s): N/A

Tuition: $12,852 (In-state) $29,975 (Out-of-state)

While best known for its excellent engineering curriculum, Virginia Tech has topped USA Today’s list of the best colleges to study natural resources and conservation for three years running. Minutes from the New River, Grayson Highlands, and Jefferson National Forest, Tech has a healthy dose of outdoor-related clubs, just a few of which promote caving, climbing, whitewater paddling , and ultrarunning. The Virginia Tech Outdoor Club is one of just two university-affiliated groups to maintain a section of the Appalachian Trail. “For biking, the Huckleberry Trail is absolutely beloved here, and the town of Blacksburg is incredibly bike-friendly,” ssays Brittan Wilcox, Outdoor Club Vice President.

Eastern Tennessee State University

Student body: 11,392

Outdoor-related degrees(s): N/A

Tuition: $8,818 (In-state), $27,018 (Out-of-state)

Just a stone’s throw from Cherokee National Forest, Eastern Tennessee State University rents out a fleet of bicycles for the week or month and maintains several “fix-it”stations around campus. The college boasts an indoor rock wall to complement its 44-foot outdoor climbing tower. The crown jewel of on-campus outdoor recreation is the Basler Team Challenge & Aerial Adventure Course, a high and low ropes course that features climbing, rappelling, bouldering, zip lines, and a giant swing. ETSU offers the Buccaneer Outdoor Adventure program for incoming freshmen. Adventures usually include biking, paddling, camping, and a service day with the U.S. Forest Service.

Lees-McRae College

Student body: 1,033

Outdoor-related degrees(s): Outdoor Recreation Management (B.S.)

Tuition: $24,150

Lees-McRae is located between Roan and Grandfather Mountain State Parks and Cherokee National Forest, and Beech and Sugar Mountain Ski Resorts are ten minutes to the north and south of campus, respectively. If they’re not in the woods or on the slopes, students can be found on the college’s indoor climbing wall. Lees-McRae is also one of the few colleges to support a competitive rock climbing team. Every year they host the Reel Rock Film Tour, a traveling film festival, to spread the rock climbing spirit.

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