Outside University: The Top 40


Sep 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

A higher power: climbing Dartmouth's Rollins Chapel

Quick release: mountain-biking the San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff

Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
LOCAL COLOR Bounded by Burrard Inlet, the Coast Mountains, and the Fraser River, this hilly 197,000-person suburb of Vancouver has nowhere to go but up. Amid the cosmopolitan flair, locals maintain an outdoor lifestyle, running or cycling around the seven-mile seawall at Stanley Park, kayaking down False Creek, scuba diving in Porteau Cove, or playing Ultimate Frisbee on one of Vancouver's 200 teams. And, of course, there's the whole North Shore freeride mountain-bike scene and Olympic-caliber downhill terrain at Whistler Blackcomb, 90 minutes away. (No wonder Vancouver was tapped to host the 2010 Winter Games.)
WORD ON THE QUAD Home to the University of British Columbia and a half-dozen other small colleges, Vancouver has a happening student scene. But Simon Fraser University tops them all—literally: The 430-acre grounds sit on the summit of 1,200-foot Burnaby Mountain. The concrete-and-glass campus is steeped in green, with its section of the Trans Canada Trail and spectacular rose gardens. Kinesiology, computer science, and engineering are the big draws, but the school also offers programs in earth sciences, environmental science, geography, and resource management. SFU's sizable Gore-Tex contingent gravitates to the outdoor, snowboard, and ski clubs, which provide instruction and lead a variety of expeditions.
EXTRA CREDIT In February, costumed engineering students participate in a time-honored tradition: throwing one another into the icy waters of Reflection Pond.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 604-291-3111, www.sfu.ca; STUDENT BODY: 22,500 undergraduates, 3,000 graduates; TUITION: Canadian residents, $3,059; nonresidents, $8,499; room and board, $2,785

Hanover, New Hampshire
LOCAL COLOR An affluent, intellectual town of gifted college kids, tweedy professors, overworked med students, and young families, Hanover (pop. 11,000) serves as a mini metropolitan area for the surrounding New Hampshire farm country. Picturesque Main and Lebanon streets house student bookshops and the immensely popular Co-Op, Hanover's natural-foods grocery, while downtown's 18th-century look is offset by the sleek, modern Hopkins Center for the Arts. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the middle of town, and on the west end, the wide and lazy Connecticut River is perfect for kayakers, rowers, and swimmers. The White Mountains are 40 miles northeast, and Vermont's Green Mountains are just across the river. Both ranges are soft from age but covered in brushy pine forests, knobby granite crags, and hiking and biking trails.
WORD ON THE QUAD With 200 acres of green-shuttered brick-and-stone buildings, towering pines, and sprawling lawns, Dartmouth couldn't look more collegiate if it tried; in nice weather, the Green's grassy expanse disappears beneath pickup disc sessions and Ivy Leaguers with laptops. The environmental studies major offers courses in natural-resource development, environmental law, ecological agriculture, and Native American environmental issues; Dartmouth's Outing Club, founded in 1909 and today numbering 2,400 members, is the country's oldest and largest. Famous for its five-day freshman backpacking trips (complete with a green-eggs-and-ham breakfast in honor of alum Dr. Seuss), the club also offers dozens of other trips year-round and maintains 70 miles of the AT.
EXTRA CREDIT The Big Green party scene is still as wild as ever, with competitive beer pong, frat and sorority disco ragers, and the notoriously wild Dartmouth Winter Carnival.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 603-646-1110, www.dartmouth.edu; Student Body: 4,100 undergraduates, 1,100 graduates; TUITION: $28,965; room and board, $8,740

Charlottesville, Virginia
LOCAL COLOR Charlottesville, a town of 45,000 in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is like the most popular girl in school: Don't hate her because she's beautiful. With gorgeous Jeffersonian architecture, a fertile live-music scene (Dave Matthews got his start playing at Miller's), and all the culinary perks you'd expect from a thriving college town (the White Spot's greasily delicious Gusburger is a fine hangover remedy), C'ville has substance and style—and plenty of outdoor cred. There are miles of hiking trails close to town, in the Ivy Creek and Ragged Mountain natural areas; cycling on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, 20 miles north; and canoeing, fishing, and tubing on the nearby James River.
WORD ON THE QUAD Founded and designed in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia is steeped in history. At the heart of its 1,200-acre grounds is the Lawn, a central green backed by TJ's Pantheon-inspired Rotunda and flanked by red-brick pavilions and single rooms (with fireplaces, and brass nameplates on the doors)—honorary housing for esteemed profs and brainy seniors. Best known for its English and history departments, UVA offers undergraduate majors in environmental sciences and biology, as well as one of the country's leading landscape architecture programs. UVA Outdoors provides a break from the books, whether it's caving at Riprap Hollow, rafting on the Gauley, or trad climbing at Seneca Rocks.
EXTRA CREDIT Head out for wine tastings—seyval blanc is a local specialty—at the swanky vineyards in the hills outside town.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 434-982-3200, www.virginia.edu; STUDENT BODY: 13,000 undergraduates, 6,000 graduates; TUITION: residents, $6,149; nonresidents, $22,169; room and board, $5,550

Flagstaff, Arizona
LOCAL COLOR Those who think of Arizona as a hot, saguaro-dotted sandbox haven't been to Flagstaff. Just 140 miles north of Phoenix, Flagstaff (pop. 57,000) is perched at a cool 6,910 feet and surrounded by thousands of acres of ponderosa pine forest. Locals—a mix of liberal mountain-town types, conservative ranchers, Native Americans, and a fair share of snowbird retirees—take advantage of the adventure-perfect landscape and mild climate to get outside whenever they can. To the north, the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks are laced with trails for hiking and mountain biking, while the canyons to the southeast have some of the best crags in the region. (The Kaibab limestone face of Le Petit Verdon, a.k.a. the Pit, near Walnut Canyon National Monument, offers more than 50 routes, rated up to 5.13.) When the snow flies—Flagstaff gets about 84 inches each winter—snowboarders and skiers head for the Arizona Snowbowl, a small resort with more than 2,000 feet of vertical, 20 minutes north of town.
WORD ON THE QUAD Spread over 738 acres just south of Flagstaff's historic downtown, Northern Arizona University's turn-of-the-20th-century sandstone buildings and newer stucco structures mingle with stands of aspen, pine, and oak. Students in NAU's field-oriented, interdisciplinary School of Forestry learn the science of thinning and controlled (we hope) burns in the 80-acre swath of ponderosas on the south side of campus. Also popular is the Parks and Recreation Management Program—which includes a one-semester park ranger certification course that's recognized by the National Park Service—and the Grand Canyon Semester, a three-month immersion in the canyon's history, native cultures, and environmental issues. (The South Rim is 90 minutes northwest of campus.) NAU Outdoors hosts weekend and day trips throughout northern Arizona and skills seminars covering everything from wilderness survival to bicycle repair.
EXTRA CREDIT Stargazers love Flagstaff—it became the world's first International Dark-Sky city when its city council passed an ordinance regulating light pollution in 2001.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 928-523-5511, www.nau.edu; STUDENT BODY: 13,600 undergraduates, 6,300 graduates; TUITION: residents, $3,508; nonresidents, $12,028; room and board, $5,374

Iowa City, Iowa
LOCAL COLOR In the middle of miles of cornfields, Iowa City is one of the ten most literate and enlightened towns in the nation, according to the American Booksellers Association. This city of 62,000, set on the winding Iowa River, is a pocket of sophistication with the feel of small-town America. Locally run bookstores, ethnic restaurants, cafés with gallery space, and organic grocers line the brick streets, and summers are a whirl of jazz musicians, artists, and food vendors. Most residents are connected to the university, which employs 21,000, but health care and manufacturing also provide many jobs. Iowa has 41,000 acres of lakes and 90 state parks, recreation areas, and preserves, giving locals plenty of room to roam. Mountain bikers head to nearby Sugar Bottom Recreation Area for its 15 miles of singletrack, paddlers row or kayak on the Iowa River, climbers tackle the limestone cliffs at Palisade-Kempler State Park, and cross-country skiers hit the wooded trails of McBride State Park.
WORD ON THE QUAD The university's gray-stone and red-brick buildings rise from hillsides flanking the river, and green lawns and running trails follow the water's edge. Established in 1847, the 1,900-acre campus is best known for the Writers' Workshop, an M.F.A. program (founded in 1936) that was the first of its kind in the country and is still the most prestigious. Undergrads take advantage of majors in environmental studies or environmental science, leisure studies, and therapeutic recreation. Though there are 24 frats and 18 sororities, students tend to head to the "Res" (the Iowa Reservoir), just outside of town, or hang out at one of 30 pubs (like Quinton's Bar & Deli), in a four-block radius of downtown. There are 46 adventure- and sports-related organizations—everything from the Cycling Club to the Lawn Sports Club—and two student environmental groups.
EXTRA CREDIT April brings Riverfest, a student-run festival that attracts headlining bands like Widespread Panic, amusement-park rides, and—after dark—cops, to tame the rowdy.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 319-335-3500, www.uiowa.edu; STUDENT BODY: 20,000 undergraduates, 9,000 graduates; TUITION: residents, $4,993; nonresidents, $15,285; room and board, $5,930