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Choosing an Outdoorsy College: It's an Education and a Lifestyle

Do you think of nature as life’s most interesting classroom? Or have you yet to discover the benefits an outdoor lifestyle has to offer?

Whatever your current relationship is with the great outdoors, choosing to study at an outdoorsy college can help you succeed in your chosen career field, whatever that might be, and it can enrich your life over the long haul. And when it comes to combining education with an outdoor lifestyle, there’s no better place to do that than in Colorado.

CNCC: A Community College with Small Class Size and Big Outdoor Adventure

Ice Mountain

Jennifer Rea, Campus Life Coordinator at CNCC’s Rangely campus, says the CNCC student body is a mix of lifelong nature enthusiasts and people who came to CNCC for its acclaimed programs — and discovered they love nature once they got there. The natural high students experience in the majestic landscapes surrounding the CNCC campuses stays with students through their lives and gets paid forward to their families. CNCC draws students nationally and internationally with its small class sizes, affordable tuition, hands-on learning, and renowned career programs. The fact that the campuses are located in one of the most inspiring, still-wild areas of the world doesn’t hurt either.

“I’ve taken students camping, rafting, ice climbing or rock climbing, and probably six out of ten students have never done any of that before,” says Rea. “I’ve had students tell me, ‘Hey this really changed my life,’ and I’ve even had students call me after graduation when they’ve moved on and tell me, ‘Hey, I took my dad camping for the first time ever!’ It’s something our students take away from the college that isn’t just a degree.”

Students as Stewards

Rea also points out that the outdoor lifestyle at CNCC fosters stewardship habits that the environment is much in need of right now. CNCC outdoor adventures always emphasize respect and responsibility for the land and its plant and animal inhabitants. “The planet has not been taken care of very well, so we do a lot of leave-no-trace techniques,” says Rea, adding that the effect is evident on campus. “We have campus cleanup volunteers and students really start to understand what it is to take care of their environment.”

Personal Benefits of an Outdoorsy College

It’s clear the earth stands to gain when young people learn to care for it, and families benefit when students bring the outdoor lifestyle home, but developing a holistic lifestyle that includes plenty of outdoor time can lead to greater academic achievement too. Getting away from the noise and distraction of a typical urban environment allows for greater calm and focus. It’s fair to say nature can be the ultimate study partner.

The natural high described by outdoorsy people is no myth and time spent outdoors is time spent wisely. Studies have shown that simply spending time in nature enhances emotional wellbeing and boosts self-confidence. It also enhances mental agility, creativity and problem-solving, qualities that can give an edge to students in any field. Another big plus the outdoor lifestyle has for students is offsetting the physical toll a busy college schedule can take on the body: outdoor exercise has been shown to boost fitness and energy more than exercising indoors, and it improves sleep quality and immunity.

What to Expect at This Outdoorsy College


Among the outdoor adventures to be had on or around campus are:At CNCC, students who are already pros at the outdoor lifestyle have many opportunities for leadership as facilitators of activities offered by the Outdoor Recreation Program, and students who are newly learning to love nature will have opportunities to get their feet wet — literally, if they want — from day one. “On Orientation Day we do an entire day out at the reservoir and I bring out rafts, paddleboards, and all kinds of fun stuff so that they can get a feel for it early on,” says Rea.

  • Floating the White River in Rangely or on one of three other nearby rivers.
  • Boating or water skiing at the Kenney Reservoir.
  • Cross country and downhill skiing at nearby world-class resorts.
  • Hiking and backpacking.
  • Mountain biking.
  • Caving/spelunking.
  • Peering into human history at 50+ petroglyph sites, or delving into geologic history at Dinosaur National Monument.
  • Observing and photographing the region’s rich and varied wildlife, including wild horses and the deer that “live” on campus.
  • Climbing the ice tower at the Rangely campus.
  • Putting balance, agility, and strength to the test on Rangely’s rope course.
  • Camping, fishing or just simply stargazing underneath our beautiful Colorado night skies.


No Matter Your Major, Nature Is a Major Draw

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Some of CNCC’s programs, such as Paleontology, Equine Studies and the college’s renowned law enforcement National Park Ranger Academy, necessarily place students out in nature. But with its nearby natural wonders and on-campus facilities, CNCC is uniquely situated to integrate the benefits of an outdoor culture for students in programs that are not typically associated with the outdoor college experience – programs such as nursing, dental hygiene, or automobile technology. Various programs use the Outdoor Recreation Program as a resource for memorable and effective team-building activities for students and staff. Many other courses leave the classroom and use the outdoors to teach about biology, geology, ecosystems, and environmental science.

Rea says the program also works with CNCC’s competitive athletic teams, getting them out of the gym for outdoor challenges that provide cross-training, team camaraderie, and a sense of adventure.

Visit the Outdoor Recreation Program to learn more about the adventure and natural high that awaits you as a student at CNCC. You can also explore our various degree and certificate programs on our website.

Published June 12, 2020

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,600 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.