Going back to college for the fall can seem like the end of outdoor fun. It’s easy to get bogged down in moving in, finding your way around campus, and managing your course load and end up in need of some fun, friends, and a way to lose the Freshman Fifteen. Outdoor activities are a great way to stay in shape, meet new people, and get to know your new digs. There are lots of opportunities offered on campus and you may even earn some legitimate credit along the way. Here are some tips for getting outside while school’s in session.

Head to the local gear shop.

Not all of us make a cross-country journey for college, but most of us will find ourselves in unfamiliar climates and terrains. While you may be able to hike in sandals through October at home, you may need snow boots before Halloween in your new locale. Before heading out make sure to drop in to the local gear shop and grab some gear that suits your new environment. How will you know what you need? Ask the clerk about the local weather and for some advice on what to wear. Or, just check out the front of the store. Is it loaded up with racks of rain gear or baskets of sunscreen? Whatever they are selling the most of are usually the local essentials. And grab a good map on your way out the door. Besides being a safety tool, it will show you where the nearest trails, ski areas, and river floats are.

Check out your campus outdoor program.

Had to leave your skis or paddle board at home? Not ready to head out on your own? Looking to try a popular local sport? No worries. Most campuses have outdoor recreation programs that offer group trips, trainings, and gear rental that fit the student budget. These programs are your best resource for outdoor fun through campus. And you are probably already paying for it out of your student fees, so use it. Ask them early in the year about ski shuttles and spring break trips, which fill up the fastest, and take advantage of their bike repair clinics, especially if you plan on riding to class.

Play a club sport.

You don’t have to have a full-ride to be a student athlete. There are all kinds of competitive leagues on campus outside of the NCAA. You can play ultimate, row crew, or race slalom with these non-official, often co-ed teams. But be careful, many club sports teams are made up of serious athletes that just barely made the cut, are recovering from injuries, or are new transfers waiting to join the University’s big-time team. If you are looking for something less competitive or find yourself in over your head, look for casual, non-tournament style groups that welcome a wider range of abilities and emphasize fun.

Join a campus conservation group.

There are lots of campus groups dedicated to conservation and protecting the environment and many of them spend a lot of time outside. Head to the student union and check out the student-run environmental groups. There is likely to be at least one that hosts action days doing beach cleanups, trail work, planting, or educational hikes that can get you outside. And you get the added bonus of knowing you did some good along the way.

Turn it into credit.

There are lots of ways to earn credit outside and off campus. Most schools offer one or two credit elective courses that are a great way to learn a new skill like scuba diving,skiing,or rafting. If you don’t have time in your schedule (or the money for extra credits) get outside while finishing your required course by signing up for classes that offer field trips. Many geology, biology, and other “ology” classes have required and optional field trips that make getting through your pre-reqs that much easier. And fall is the time to start looking for summer internships and research assistants positions. There are lots of outdoor groups that offer credited internships for seasonal or short-term work and researching professors and grad students often trade credit for helping them finish their field work. Ask around your favorite department, it could even become a paid gig.

[divider]Guest Contributor[/divider]
110212-014001Ruby McConnell writes about nature and the outdoors from somewhere in Oregon. Look for her outdoor guide for women from Sasquatch Books in 2016. You can read more of her work at her blog, Girl Gone Wild or follow her @RubyGoneWild