John Muir’s alma mater is positioned between two lakes, Monona and Mendota, so big portions of campus are waterfront, including a running path that weaves through the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.
Madison is one of the Midwest’s most diverse and liberal towns. Its Badgers have an unusually fierce and lifelong love for their school and comprise what’s maybe America’s most excitable collegiate fan base. Though the cheering is most often reserved for the football team, UW’s outdoor-rec group, the Hoofers, has a storied history too: It’s been volunteer-run since its 1931 founding, with a mission of teaching members (non-students can join too) outdoor skills via activities like backpacking, canoeing, caving, skiing, biking, kayaking, and top-roping. The student union rents a limited but reasonably priced selection of equipment; canoes, for example, cost $26 per day, while tents start at $5, including ground tarp.
Many of Wisconsin’s academic classes require outdoor fieldwork. On Lake Mendota, the Center for Limnology (the word means “study of inland waters”), adjacent to the Hoofer Club’s sailing dock, lets students and faculty study things like how native fish species hunt the invasive rusty crayfish.
Bring your heavy Patagonia jacket, though—Madison reaches crazy lows in winter. On days when it’s too cold to go outside, keep your skills sharpened on the union’s two-story climbing wall.
If you’re a legacy, bring your living ancestors to Grandparents University—you’ll be able to take a two-day class with Nana; options include entomology and restoration ecology.
CONTACT: (608) 263-2400, wisc.edu
STUDENT BODY: 30,555 undergraduates, 12,040 graduates
TUITION: residents $9,671, nonresidents $25,421, room and board $7,780