For college football enthusiasts, fall is the Holy Grail of seasons. But you don't have to be a face-painting, mascot-worshipping fanatic to make a weekend getaway to a college town, which are equally enticing to adventure enthusiasts with their outdoor offerings.
College towns are a natural fit for outdoor meccas because of their populations of active students eager for a break from studying. The following places, however, are stand-alone gems for outdoor pursuits, from hiking to biking to canoeing with alligators.
One word of caution: During game weekends, especially at larger universities, accommodations fill up fast. You'll probably have better luck staying a few miles outside of town, though you can also try calling for last-minute cancellations.
Gainesville, FL: There's no better place to get your gator on than the hometown of the University of Florida, and we don't just mean in the 90,000-seat stadium where the Gators play. Lake Alice, on campus, is so full of the revered reptiles that nighttime joggers are urged to stay away. At Payne's Prairie (www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie), about 10 miles south, you can canoe in alligator-infested waters and catch a glimpse of bison, wild boar, coyotes, and other wildlife that thrive on this 21,000-acre wilderness area. If you're looking for an experience thats less Animal Planet, check out the 16 miles of biking and hiking trails that extends to Hawthorne. Another Gainesville favorite: Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, which features a 120-foot deep sinkhole that requires a descent of 232 wooden steps.
Ann Arbor, MI: The home of the University of Michigan, A2, as its locals often call it, boasts a cozy, welcoming feel and some of the best outdoor offerings in the Midwest. Mountain bikers flock to Pinckney Recreation Area, which boasts killer singletrack trails like the Potowatami, and paddlers and canoers of all skill levels take to the Huron River. Another draw? Prices for room and board seem to honor a student's sparse budget, so you can stay on the cheap. For more info on activities, check out www.a2gov.org or www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Study up on other standout university towns with our Top 10 College Campuses to Visit.