Wild path to a degree

For college-bound students who want to be wilderness guides, park rangers or recreation leaders, Ivy League schools just don't cut it. So where do you go?

A number of colleges and universities offer degrees that prepare students for outdoors employment. Some emphasize management training while others teach serious rock-climbing skills.

Here are a dozen programs around the nation that boost the outdoors quotient.

Alaska Pacific


Anchorage, Alaska

The degree: bachelor of arts in outdoor studies

The program: Students concentrate on one of four areas: outdoor education, wilderness therapy, commercial recreation/tourism and land management. In addition, they can specialize in mountaineering or sea kayaking.

Why here: Mountaineering students cut their teeth in the Chugach and Alaska ranges. Sea kayakers play in Prince William Sound.

Bonus points: How many other four-year colleges offer a dog-mushing class?

Cal Poly

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of science in recreation, parks and tourism administration

The program: Students who want to work as park rangers, recreation planners, outdoor educators, naturalists or entrepreneurs specialize in natural resources recreation, then pick between two areas of emphasis: outdoor recreation management and adventure ecotourism.

Why here: The waves at Pismo Beach and the hiking trails of Los Padres National Forest are within a 15-minute drive.

Bonus points: This summer's outdoor adventure leadership courses include kayaking in Baja, Mexico, and backpacking in the Sierra.

Cal State University, Chico

Chico, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of science in recreation administration

The program: Students choose from four specialization options, including parks and natural resource management and community/commercial recreation and tourism. Many graduates go on to become park rangers.

Why here: The campus abuts Bidwell Park, one of the nation's largest municipal parks. Weekends are spent inner-tubing on the nearby Sacramento River.

Bonus points: For their mandatory internship, some students spend a semester at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Cal State University, Long Beach

Long Beach, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of arts in recreation

The program: Students choose from five areas of specialization, including administration of outdoor recreation resources, administration of travel and tourism, and management of nonprofit and volunteer services. Future park rangers often earn a certificate in the administration of outdoor recreation resources, as well as a certificate in wilderness studies from the kinesiology department, where they study mountaineering and other technical skills.

Why here: Huntington Beach's waves are a short drive away. Skiing, desert camping and backpacking are within a few hours' drive.

Bonus points: The ocean environment recreation course includes a weeklong trip to the Channel Islands in early summer, when sea lions are birthing.

Green Mountain College

Poultney, Vt.

The degree: bachelor of science in adventure recreation

The program: Students take courses in the environment and business and marketing, as well as technical outdoor skills classes such as ice-climbing and mountain travel and rescue. Graduates go on to work as wilderness guides, instructors and recreation specialists.

Why here: The downhill runs at Killington are just 40 minutes away.

Bonus points: Henry David Thoreau would be proud. All entering freshmen take a class called Images of Nature, in which they read outdoor classics and work on their own nature writing.

Humboldt State


Arcata, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of arts in recreation administration

The program: Humboldt's program isn't geared specifically toward wilderness and the outdoors, but students can choose that emphasis while also studying recreation and minoring in business. Graduates have gone on to work for organizations such as Outward Bound.

Why here: Redwood National Park is a 30-minute drive from campus.

Bonus points: Students can take a class in back-country horse-packing — experience that helps some land jobs with the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.

Northern Arizona


Flagstaff, Ariz.

The degree: bachelor of science in parks and recreation management

The program: Students choose from more than half a dozen areas of specialization, including wild-land recreation management, the park ranger training program, outdoor education, outdoor leadership, and wilderness medicine and rescue. Many graduates go on to work for the National Park Service. Others become professional guides and outdoor instructors.

Why here: The area offers world-class rock-climbing. Mountain bikers pedal from campus to winding singletrack in the San Francisco Peaks.

Bonus points: The campus offers loads of technical courses. Just added: introduction to caving, which covers hydrology, identifying escape routes and hazards.

Prescott College

Prescott, Ariz.

The degree: bachelor of arts in adventure education and wilderness leadership

The program: The college emphasizes "experiential learning and self-direction within an interdisciplinary curriculum." That means students immerse themselves in a wide variety of experiences, from avalanche forecasting in the Rockies and sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez to paddling the Colorado River.

Why here: It's a 20-minute drive to Granite Mountain, one of the nation's top rock-climbing spots. A 2 1/2 -hour drive puts students at the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

Bonus points: Every student is introduced to the program through a three-week backpacking trip in Arizona's canyon country.

San Diego State


San Diego, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of science in recreation administration with an emphasis in outdoor recreation

The program: To prepare for a career as a park ranger or adventure programmer, students study a range of disciplines, from geography and geology to biology and sociology. A course in outdoor leadership is included. To bone up on wilderness skills, students can take noncredit courses.

Why here: Surfing, kayaking and sailing are a short drive down Highway 8 on the coast. Due south: the wide expanses of the Baja peninsula.

Bonus points: Some students have completed their required internship at parks in Australia and New Zealand.

San Jose State


San Jose, Calif.

The degree: bachelor of science in recreation and leisure studies

The program: Students choose from four areas of emphasis. Those who go on to become park rangers usually specialize in park resource management. Those interested in commercial guiding and wilderness adventure specialize in commercial recreation and tourism.

Why here: Steamer Lane's winter waves are less than an hour away. Canoeing on the Guadalupe River is but a 20-minute drive.

Bonus points: Recreation and leisure studies faculty offer a course in global studies. This year's students visit the Peruvian Andes.

Sterling College

Craftsbury Common, Vt.

The degree: bachelor of arts in outdoor education and leadership

The program: Students study a range of topics, from ecology and policy to rock-climbing and whitewater canoeing, to prepare for work as an outdoor guide, interpreter or teacher.

Why here: A 50-kilometer cross-country ski trail cuts right through campus.

Bonus points: Students who take a course in mountain culture can spend eight weeks in Nepal or western Mongolia.

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

The degree: bachelor of science in parks, recreation and tourism

The program: Students pick from a number of specialty fields, including commercial recreation, and parks and recreation administration. Graduates go on to become park rangers, guides and outfitters.

Why here: The ski lifts at Alta and Snowbird are just 35 minutes away.

Bonus points: Among the elective courses, students can take canyoneering, which includes training in rappelling and moving through water in some of Utah's otherworldly canyons.