Collegiate DH racing. Photo: Jesse Palmer, via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/jp3d/

Collegiate DH racing. Photo: Jesse Palmer, via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/jp3d/

As a 17- or 18-year-old in your senior year of high school, you’re now faced with one of the toughest decisions that you’ve ever encountered: “where should I go to college?” Maybe you’re a high school senior reading this article and are stuck in that place right now, or maybe you’re asking yourself an even bigger question: “SHOULD I go to college?”

When I was 18, I found myself in that exact same boat. Despite being an honors student and getting straight A’s all the way through high school, I was pretty hell-bent on not pursuing higher education. Instead, I was more concerned with uprooting from my home in the Midwest and moving to the mountains, to take classes in bottomless powder and endless singletrack.

My decision to start off at a small (tiny!) school in the mountains of Montana was a pivotal decision in my life, and at the time I had no idea how significantly it would affect the course of my life. That one decision led to a string of choices and moves that have brought me to where I am today, sitting in my home office, staring at a 14,000-foot mountain peak, writing for one of the most widely-read mountain biking websites in the world.

Here’s the good news: your decision about whether or not you should attend college, and where you want to go if you do, doesn’t have to be an either/or. You don’t have to choose between moving somewhere to find access to world-class mountain biking or pursuing higher education. If you choose properly, you can do both at the same time!

To help make your decision easier, I decided to make the cheat sheet I wish I had as a high school senior: a list of the best colleges and universities in the United States where you can get your bachelor’s degree and at the same time, get your degree in DIRT by riding fantastic singletrack!

As we compiled this list, we considered a wide number of variables, including the proximity of on-campus or close-to-campus singletrack for students without a car, the quantity of high quality singletrack in the general area for students with transportation, the quality of the collegiate racing team, the quality of the academics (all of these are four-year institutions where you can earn a variety of bachelor’s degrees), and more.

In the following list we also do our best to not only give an overview of the trail access in each area, but the most highly developed degree tracks at each institution. So if you’re hoping to pursue a degree in engineering, or marketing, or nursing, choose the school that best applies to you!

Here are our top 10 colleges and universities in the US (in alphabetical order) where you can get a four-year degree… in dirt:

Boise State University, Idaho

Photo: Tour Guide

Photo: Tour Guide

Closest Singletrack: 

Boise State University is located less than two miles of pedaling from the foothills on the edge of town, which are home “to the Ridge to Rivers trail system that boasts nearly 200 miles of singletrack,” according to Roger Phillips, our Idaho-based correspondent. “The area has a long riding season that can be nearly year-round depending on snow level. Boise sits at 2,800ft elevation, and you can climb to 7,300ft in about 16 miles to Bogus Basin, the local ski area.”

Not only is Boise itself an epic place to ride, but it’s located just over 2 hours from the destination of Mccall and less than 3 hours from Sun Valley.

Photo: boisestate.edu

Photo: boisestate.edu

Boise State is known for its undergrad engineering program, “internationally-accredited business school, Idaho’s largest undergraduate nursing program,” and an acclaimed creative writing program. They also boast “the nation’s only master’s degree in raptor biology” and “one-of-a-kind programs in Basque Studies.” (Source)

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Great list Greg. Having gotten my degrees from Northern Arizona in Forestry focusing on multi-resource management, forest ecology and silviculture, I can attest to the quality of that program. My wife got her degree in nursing there. And yes, the Restaurant and Hotel Management Degree is highly rated as is the PT degree.

  • Bikehikeflyco

    You forgot about Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Lory State Park, Horsetooth Mountain Park, and several other trails fairly close by. Also all the epic trails just over Cameron Pass by the Boat…

  • John Fisch

    To be fair, Barnett Bicycle Institute is a trade school rather than a college or university. However, Colorado Springs does have three excellent choices for the aspiring cyclist, all of which are within riding distance of outstanding singletrack: Colorado College, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and The United States Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy even has the outstanding 14 mile Falcon Trail loop right on the premises.

    For those wishing to get a two year associates degree, or who are okay spending their first two years in a community college and then transferring to a four year school, Colorado Mountain College has numerous campuses in some of the states, and nation’s, best mountain biking spots. There are residential campuses in Steamboat Springs, Leadville and Glenwood Springs as well as community (non-residential) campuses in Breckenridge, Buena Vista, Aspen and Edwards (Vail Valley) as well as lesser known locales like Rifle and Carbondale.

    The University of Wyoming in Laramie puts you very close to a great variety of outstanding, and uncrowded singletrack, but the riding season can be kind of short.

    It’s hard to beat the biking in the Black Hills and there is a University of South Dakota Campus in Rapid City as well as Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

    There’s a hundred or more miles of quality singletrack accessible by riding from the Idaho State University campus in Pocatello.

    If you live in a non-mountain state and need to stay close to home to get in-state tuition, there are always options as well. For instance, Northern Michigan University sits in Marquette, a short hop from the excellent South Marquette Trail System. Even in modestly endowed, Kansas there are options. The University of Kansas in Lawrence is within riding distance of Clinton State Park and it’s an easy drive to the truly excellent rides in the KC area, including Shawnee, Swope, and Landahl.

  • thub

    I would add in Central Oregon Community College or The Oregon State University Bend Campus. The insane amount of single-track right out the front door is reason enough. The fat bike scene is taking off, groomed trails exist and locals pack out other trails. Not to mention Mt. Bachelor, a 9,000 ft. volcano that gets some of the best snow conditions in the PNW. I went to COCC way back in the day, 1989 -1991. Some of the best days of my life, also the place I was introduced to mountain biking. Bend, OR should be on the aspiring students short list.

  • mongwolf

    Surprisingly, Arizona State might be a good place too. South Mountain Park Trails are just minutes away from the campus. Living in a massive metroplex like Phoenix would not interest me, but there is a lot of good riding in the Valley of the Sun. Plus, there may be no campus in the nation with better weather during the school year.

  • jaderrick

    Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. It’s a good school and Bellingham is a bike town. Galbraith and Chuckanut are among the almost 300 trails within riding distance; even more within 2 hours drive. Another important aspect: great beer.

  • alroosa

    Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D. should definitely be on the list! Tons of great single track, and a really great school(I’m an alum, and still live in Spearfish, I just had to stay!!) They also have a campus in Rapid City, S.D. where there is also quite a bit of good trail to be ridden!

  • tholyoak

    It was good to see the University of Utah listed, but a little south of there are Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, which are near lots of different canyons and mountain bike parks.

  • E. Swenson

    This is my first time commenting on a topic of Singletracks because it’s something I’m very passionate about. Thank you Greg for the articles you’ve written about the amazing IMBA GOLD Level Riding in Duluth, MN. Home to the University of Minnesota Duluth. And if the reason you haven’t been here to experience it is because our average temperatures in the winter are barely above zero, then let me tell you that our summers are quite enjoyable and our beer is cold.

    From the buffed-out, flowing trails at Lester to the freerider playgrounds of Piedmont and Brewer to the lift-accessed trails of Spirit Mountain, the riding in Duluth is both high-quality and highly varied. The entire community has embraced trail-based recreation, including a major initiative to create the Duluth Traverse. This in-progress effort—led in part by the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS)—will result in a 100-mile singletrack network within city limits. Currently, Duluth offers more than 60 miles of trails on or near the glistening shores of Lake Superior.

    If you haven’t already, consider Duluth for one of your next trips. You will not be disappointed. I also recommend checking out Bike Duluth Festival on Facebook and their website. It’s surely an event the entire family, downhill, enduro, and XC racers won’t want to miss.

    If this didn’t convince you yet, Outside Magazine named Duluth, MN one of the “Best Outdoor Cities” of 2014.


    • Greg Heil

      Hi E. Swenson, thanks so much for chiming in! Duluth is an excellent choice. I grew up in Wisconsin, and one of my top college choices in-state was Superior, just across the bay. Granted I ended up moving to Montana, but still–Duluth is one rad town!

  • seanwittmer

    Greg, I agree with jaderrick. Surprised that you failed to Western Washington. Besides what is within riding distance from your doorstep, having British Columbia as your next door neighbor gives incredible riding opportunities.

  • thom248

    Am totally amazed Western in Bellingham, WA did not make the top ten. Haven ridden several of the areas mentioned, the local trails from the campus are every bit as good as many mentioned. An added plus, in Whistler less than a couple hours to the north.

  • grettavw

    Great article. As a NC rider, appreciate the shout out to banner elk and Boone, but Colorado state and Fort Collins offer so much more and deserve a top 10 spot in my opinion.

  • gotdurt

    How did ASU get left out??? Did I miss something?
    UT should be on the runner-up list; Austin has a very strong mountain biking community, with lots of good trails that are convenient.

  • rbland

    So you really left Brevard College off the top 10 list? The success of the cycling team, it’s outdoor degree curriculum, 400 miles of trials of all types and all this smack in the middle of the green embrace of Mother Pisgah, you have dropped your chain on this one. You certainly do not deserve to be in the top ten of top ten MTB list makers, thats for sure, maybe a mention in more choices.

  • dunklebrau

    I attended the University of Nevada Reno when alumni John Wilson won Collegiate Nationals. Pevine peak offers at least 30 miles of single track within a mile of campus. Then there are the Mt. Rose trails, the Tahoe Rim Trail, Northstar at Tahoe bike park, the Truckee trails, Donner Summit trails (Hole in the Ground), West Shore trails, South Shore trails (Toads Wild Ride), the new Graegle/Lakes Basin trails, oh and Downieville.

  • jeglegs

    Although the riding around the UC Santa Cruz campus is great, it is limited and the majority of the good stuff is illegal. There are about 7-9 trails worth riding that are within riding distance from campus–all illegal. On weekends those trails are flooded with people driving over the hill from Silicon Valley. It is very common to roll up to one of the major trail intersections and have to push your way through 15 to 20 riders clogging things up. Outside of these few trails, you are driving at least a hour or more to get to anything decent like the Demo Flow Trail. And as you might expect, the trail is world-class but sees 200-300 riders on any given weekend day do to its proximity to the Bay Area. The riding in the Bay Area is 97% fireroads so everyone rides the same singletrack spots. Beyond the legality and the overcrowding of the trails, the cost of living in this area is insane. A 1 bedroom apt ranges from $1600 to $2000 a month. Crime is high in this town as well and if you choose to live on campus you will need a car or bus pass to get into town.

    There are plenty of good qualities about the town and school like the weather, natural beauty, and quality of education, but I don’t think UC Santa Cruz deserves to be on this list. Just too many better options.

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