Two words: Grand Canyon. It’s may be a six-hour drive away, but it’s worth the haul. To get there, you go through the much closer Tonto National Forest and past the Sonoran Desert Monument. The school’s also 16 miles to Saguaro National Park and an hour from the severely underrated Kartchner Caverns State Park, with its limestone wonders.
Tucson is the brightest destination on this list, with 85 percent possible sunshine per year—but be prepared to sweat, because daytime lows, between spring and fall, rarely dip below 80 degrees Farenheit. The desert climate, though, paired with the proximity to premier outdoor playgrounds, are part of what make U. of A. so great for nature lovers.
Outdoor programming here isn’t always grade-A, but options do include surf trips, midnight hiking, and, of course, Grand Canyon camping. Outings are relatively affordable (a local mountain bike ride costs $20) and so is a good variety of rental equipment—climbing shoes and a chalk bag are free to borrow, and brand-name tents and sleeping bags start at $8 per day.
The popular Challenge Program features a ropes course, and its staff offers a two-credit class about how to facilitate teambuilding. The rec center, whose planned expansion is set to meet LEED Platinum standards, has a rock wall and scuba-certification classes.
Academically, this is one of America’s most outdoor-focused universities, with more than 100 regional fieldwork programs. One class works with the elders of the White Mountain Apache tribe to get ethnography and GIS research experience, while the College of Agriculture turns the Santa Rita Experimental Range (about 30 miles south of Tucson) into a real-life lab for groundbreaking sustainable-management research.
After graduation, alumni with disposable income can spend it on the contents of a well-planned catalog of global travel, including a $7,000 Antarctica expedition, a $4,250 Lindblad-led journey on the Sea of Cortez, or Astronomy Camp ($750) atop the Santa Catalina Mountains.
CONTACT: (520) 621-3237, arizona.edu
STUDENT BODY: 30,592 undergraduates, 8,494 graduates
TUITION: residents $9,286, nonresidents $25,496, room and board $8,540