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10 Best Outdoor Colleges On River and Lakes

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Best Outdoor Colleges on River and Lakes. Whether it’s the Mighty Mississippi and the Great Lakes, or the streams, creeks, and ponds that give the map its areas of blue, rivers and lakes comprise America’s circulatory system. It shouldn’t be surprising that some of the top institutions in America are located along the banks of our rivers and lakes as communities have historically developed around lakes and rivers for recreation, transportation, and access to clean water.

Ranking the Best Outdoor Colleges on River and Lakes

The Best River and Lake Colleges encompass a wide range of geographical features, including man-made lakes created by electricity-generating dams, natural lakes created by glaciers thousands of years ago, rivers that run through significant cities, and remote, rural rivers barely touched by civilization. They are spread across the entire continental US, from the coasts to the Heartland. Everywhere rivers and lakes affect people’s lives, whether it be in the Rockies or the Appalachians, on the East or West coast, in the subtropics or in the freezing north.

It’s crucial to emphasize that no rating can be completely objective in the interest of clarity. Colleges and universities had to have enough publisher rankings and student ratings to establish a Consensus score in order to be considered for the Best River and Lake Colleges; as a result, institutions that might have had a wonderful lake or river but not a Consensus score were not in the running.

Our editors chose colleges from the initial pool of consensus-ranked schools that are close to lakes or rivers that have a focus on the use of water for enjoyment, research, and conservation. The institutions are listed in order of their Consensus score to produce a list that takes both the quality of education and the quality of life into consideration.

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1. Cornell University

Cornell University emerged as the most cutting-edge and useful of the Ivy League schools despite being the newest and the only one to have been established after the American Revolution. The emphasis on research, technology, and community involvement at Cornell has persisted since the institution’s founding in 1865.

Cornell is actively involved in the life of the city and the lake from its base in Ithaca, New York, which is located on the southern edge of Cayuga Lake. With projects like the Cayuga Lake Modeling Project, which examines the effects of pollution on the lake, and the Lake Source Cooling Project, which uses cold water from the lake’s bottom to sustainably chill the campus, Cornell also plays a significant role in conserving and protecting Cayuga Lake.

The second largest and longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake, offers Cornell students more than just work. At Cayuga, one of the most well-liked recreational lakes in the area, Cornell students and staff members take part in boating, fishing, and outdoor activities. Additionally, Fall Creek, one of Cayuga’s tributaries, and the smaller Beebe Lake run alongside Cornell University’s campus. With miles of hiking trails, the expansive Cornell Botanical Garden, which covers more than 4000 acres overall, provides access to the river and lake for students and townspeople, making the Cornell campus a well-liked recreation location for many nearby areas. Although swimming is not advised, Cornell students still dive into Fall Creek and Cascadilla gorges during the summer.

2. University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame, which is consistently ranked as one of the best private research universities in the world, is renowned for its outstanding undergraduate education, significant research, and one of the most storied football programs in American history. Since its establishment in 1942, Notre Dame has exerted considerable influence in the Midwest, setting the bar for academic excellence much like the Ivy League did for New England.

Today, Notre Dame is extremely selective, and the majority of its students are top-tier pupils. With its renowned close-knit campus community, Notre Dame is renowned for its diversity and has long been listed as a “dream college” for students.

3. Wellesley College

Wellesley College, one of the Seven Sisters and one of the best liberal arts universities in the US, is consistently recognized as one of the top women’s colleges in the country. The Seven Sisters were a group of seven women’s colleges that functioned as the Ivy League’s predecessors before coeducation. Wellesley College, which is frequently referred to as the most prestigious women’s institution in the world, is renowned for its powerful alumni and its extensive network of opportunities for students and graduates.

One of the original goals of the founders, who wanted the natural beauty of the area to stimulate the minds of Wellesley’s students, was to make Wellesley one of the best small college towns and one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Wellesley is located in the heart of New England, just outside Boston, Massachusetts.

4. University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s oldest university and the premier public research school in Wisconsin, was founded in 1848 and serves as a hub of learning and culture throughout the Midwest. A Public Ivy, UW-Madison draws students from all over the Midwest, the US, and the world to one of the most stunning campuses in one of the most adored college towns in the country, in addition to its top-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs.

Although Madison is the capital and the second-largest city in Wisconsin, it is thanks to UW that every year, thousands of students choose to live in this city of lakes and rivers.

5. Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University, one of the most esteemed liberal arts universities in the US, was first established by the Methodist Church in 1831. (and was, in fact, the first school named for Methodist founder John Wesley). Wesleyan University is currently autonomous and secular. It is renowned for its excellent undergraduate programs, which have elevated it to the status of one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country.

Wesleyan University is situated close to the banks of the Connecticut River, which dominated life in Middletown as a significant sailing port in the 1800s. Middletown, Connecticut, is one of the best small college towns in America.

6. Davidson College

Davidson College is a tiny liberal arts college located in Davidson, North Carolina, and is frequently referred to as one of the Southern Ivies, the prestigious colleges regarded as the South’s version of the Ivy League. One of the best small college towns in America and one of the best college towns to retire to is Davidson, North Carolina, which is an outlying suburb of Charlotte.

A town of more than 13,000 people in growth, Davidson is also close to Lake Norman, the sizable reservoir built by Duke Power to electrify the North Carolina Piedmont region. One of the most well-liked recreational lakes in the South, Lake Norman is the largest freshwater body in the state with more than 50 square miles of surface area and more than 500 miles of shoreline.

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7. University of Washington

Seattle was merely a brand-new town in the Washington Territory when the University of Washington was established there in 1861—it hadn’t even been recognized as a city yet. Seattle became a significant trading hub because to the Puget Sound ports, but it was the University of Washington that gave the city its soul. The two eventually became one of the best West Coast partnerships. UW has nourished Seattle’s professional class and culture even as Seattle has emerged as a global leader in technology and entrepreneurship.

UW’s campus stretches along Lake Washington, the Montlake Cut, and Portage Bay, making it a top choice for water-loving students. Because UW is situated between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound, both student life and the academic environment are influenced by water.

8. University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, one of America’s Public Ivies and a top-tier Carnegie Classification research institution, is one of the most esteemed public institutions in the country. Even before the Minnesota Territory was accepted as a state, in 1851, the University of Minnesota (UMN) had a role in transforming the Twin Cities into a contemporary, prosperous metropolis.

The main campus in Minneapolis is unusually split across the East and West banks of the Mississippi River, unlike the St. Paul campus, which is situated three miles distant in the neighborhood of Falcon Heights. Students cross the Washington Avenue Bridge between campuses by automobile, foot, or bicycle as a result of the configuration, which has generated an uncommon campus experience.

9. Michigan State University

One of the most significant, though underappreciated, public research colleges in the US is Michigan State University, founded in 1855. The paradigm for the land-grant research university system and almost every other public university with “State” or “A&M” in its name was created by MSU since it was the first institution to study and teach scientific agriculture. MSU continues to be one of the most significant public research universities in the Midwest, with innovative programs in agriculture, commerce, and engineering. In addition, it has a significant impact on East Lansing, one of the best little college towns in America, as well as Michigan’s natural environment, particularly its lakes and rivers.

10. Clemson University

The public land-grant university in South Carolina is Clemson University. It is a leader in research and graduate education in the South. U.S. News & World Report ranks Clemson, which was founded in 1889, in the top 25 national public colleges, and the Carnegie Foundation places it in the top tier of research universities. Being a land-grant university, Clemson is well known for its engineering and agriculture programs. However, it is also a leader in the fields of forestry and life sciences, in large part because of its location on Lake Hartwell, one of the largest artificial lakes in the South and an ideal outdoor laboratory for studying natural resources.

FAQS on Best Outdoor Colleges On River and Lakes

What are the best colleges for rafting?

For outdoor enthusiasts wishing to go beyond the outdoors as a hobby, this is one of the best institutions. A liberal arts degree in outdoor leadership is available from Warren Wilson, and you can earn credits by working as a rafting guide or a camp counselor during your internship.

What is the outdoor program at Colorado State University?

The college offers pupils the chance to go on excursions and instructs them in outdoor activities and sports. In order to help students, get ready for their own excursions, the outdoor program also provides individualized trips and workshops. Additionally, students can hire equipment to independently explore Colorado.

What is it like to study outdoors at Williams College?

For those who enjoy the great outdoors, they even offer an outdoor studies major. Students can borrow equipment through the outdoor programs for pursuits including ice climbing, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. They provide excursions and clinics as well to take pupils outside. In close proximity to the Appalachian Trail lies Williams College.


Spending time outside is a terrific way to relieve stress, get some exercise, and generally feel better. This is now common knowledge. With all of their coursework, studying, and career preparation, college students may find it difficult to find time to spend outside (and maybe some parties, too). In order to let students, earn credits while learning to cross-country ski or recognize wild foods in the wild, many institutions operate institutional outdoor programs.

These initiatives give students the chance to learn new things while unwinding in the great outdoors. But over time, I’ve observed that a lot of my classmates have completely altered their personal and professional lives as a result of their participation in these programs.

When choosing a school, there are numerous factors to consider. If you’re about to make a significant decision in your life, you might want to include outdoor programming and access to your list of top considerations. Consider these institutions for outdoor explorers if you’re thinking about pursuing a job that focuses on the outdoors or if you simply want to live somewhere beautiful with easy access to outdoor recreation.

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