10 Most Beautiful Colleges in the Pacific Northwest

Ask any college freshman and you will undoubtedly hear that natural and architectural aesthetics played a major part in the ultimate decision of  where to attend college. From there, opinions tend to differ. While some prefer ivy-covered brick buildings, others look for modern, state-of-the-art construction. The 10 colleges on this list have been chosen as some of the most beautiful campuses in the country, and the most beautiful in the Pacific Northwest, which includes northern California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Though there are surely more than 10 beautiful colleges in this part of the country, the following schools were chosen and ranked based on the following criteria:

Methodology for Beautiful Pacific Northwest Colleges

Awards & Recognition (2 points for an international accolade; 1 point for an American accolade; 1 for appearing on the National Register of Historic Places): Whether a national award or an honor bestowed by a group or organization, any recognition a campus has received played a large part in the placement of a school on this list. Generally speaking, the larger and more recent the honor, the higher the college was placed.

Student Enjoyment (1 point per notable feature): While most of the features described in this article can be appreciated visually by both students and visitors, those campuses with features that can be physically enjoyed by the school's student body (such as botanical gardens or hiking trails) were given higher priority.

Number of Notable Features (1 point for each notable feature): Campuses with more than one significant or celebrated building or feature were ranked higher than those with a single notable feature.

Other (1 point each): Those campuses with other notable characteristics, such as historical significance or environmental friendliness, were also considered.

In the event of a tie, the higher-ranking campus was chosen by the author based on characteristics such as natural terrain and climate, historical significance, or academic reputation.

Ranking the Most Beautiful Colleges in the Pacific Northwest

10. George Fox University

(10 points)

Newberg, Oregon

Though it has four campuses throughout the state, private liberal arts college George Fox University’s main campus is located in Newberg. The whole campus is surrounded by the picturesque greenery characteristic of the state of Oregon, but the true gems of the campus are two historical buildings, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Minthorn Hall, built in 1886, is still used for classes. Rumor has it that future President Herbert Hoover briefly lived in the building before it was converted to classrooms. The architecturally impressive Jesse Edwards House was constructed in 1883 and serves as the university president’s house.

9. Seattle Pacific University

(10 points)

Seattle, Washington

Seattle Pacific University sits in the beautiful and historic Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill. The 43-acre campus is home to charming brick buildings, state-of-the-art facilities, and some of the oldest trees in Seattle. The most iconic building on campus is surely Alexander Hall. Called only the “Red Brick Building” when it was first built to house the Seattle Seminary, Alexander Hall is now the oldest building on campus. Students of the main campus may also enjoy taking the occasional trip to Seattle Pacific’s two satellite campuses located on Whidbey Island and Blakely Island. Despite the university’s location in urban Seattle, students often frequent nearby Alki Beach and Madonna Beach where fishing, boating, and scuba diving are all popular pastimes.

8. Humboldt State University

(11 points)

Arcata, California

Located in Humboldt County, this state university attracts  students who are looking for the laid-back California feel. The campus itself is on a hill. On one side is one of NorCal’s famous redwood forests, while the other side of campus offers impressive views of Arcata, Humboldt Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. The campus itself definitely appeals to outdoor lovers, and includes an ocean-side marine biology research center, a wildlife care facility, a natural history museum, a bay-side aquatics facility, a mountain-top astronomy observatory, and a demonstration forest, to name a few.

7. The Evergreen State College

(12 points)

Olympia, Washington

This 1,000-acre campus proves that The Evergreen State College is appropriately named. Beautiful trails lead through the verdant campus, and provide a great opportunity for students interested in agricultural and ecological research. Students looking to wander off campus can head down to Evergreen Beach, which borders Puget Sound and is a great place for kayaking. Besides being a picturesque campus, The Evergreen State College is one of the premiere “green” campuses in the region. An organic farm is used as both a teaching hub and a peaceful area to relax.

6. Western Washington University

(14 points)

Bellingham, Washington

Located 90 miles from Seattle, Western Washington University is a peaceful Pacific Coast refuge that's been described as “magical” on more than one occasion. Red-brick pathways wind through the conifer-scented campus and are enjoyed by both students and the local deer population. Campus gems include the Wilson Library Reading Room (nicknamed “The Harry Potter Room”), Haskell Plaza and its grassy mounds organized into a rough map of the San Juan Islands, and the impressive Performing Arts Center Plaza. Views of the islands and Bellingham Bay are visible from most of campus, while the nearby town of Bellingham boasts pubs, live music venues, and a number of well-received restaurants.

5. Whitworth University

(16 points)

Spokane, Washington

Besides being one of the most beautiful colleges in the country, Whitworth University consistently ranks as one of the best colleges, too! Located on 200 pine tree-covered acres in Spokane, Washington, much of the campus features red-brick, collegiate-style buildings like that of McMillan Hall, built in 1913. Since 2000, Whitworth has spent $100 million in renovations that have included a new, state-of-the-art science center, a center for the visual arts, and a recreational center for students.

4. Brigham Young University--Idaho

(16 points)

Rexburg, Idaho

BYU Idaho sits on a hill  overlooking the city of Rexburg and much of the Snake River Valley. The stunning views are really the crown jewel of the BYU campus, though it’s true that the rest of the campus has been tastefully designed to complement the northwestern landscape. Especially impressive buildings on the 400+ acre campus include the planetarium, an arboretum, wildlife museums, and a large family history center. Two outdoor learning centers, both of which include lodges, are off campus, but just what you’d expect from the western state.

3. Whitman College

(18 points)

Walla Walla, Washington

Take a stroll around Whitman College, and you’re likely to forget that you are in little Walla Walla, Washington. Built around the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty, Whitman’s campus consists of trails, streams, ponds, and outdoor sculptures. Many of the campus’ buildings were built in the Victorian style, with a number of modern structures having popped up in recent years. Ankeny Field, one of the main gathering spaces on campus, doubles as a local nature preserve called the Johnston Wilderness Campus, and is used for social events, research purposes, and de-stressing.

2. University of Washington

(22 points)

Seattle, Washington

As stated in Forbes magazine, “Snow-capped mountain views in an urban setting is . . . a sweet deal.” Indeed, University of Washington’s Seattle campus is impressive in terms of natural beauty. From much of the 703-acre campus, students and visitors will be in awe of the inspiring views of the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range. As if that weren’t enough, the main quad area is ringed with cherry trees that blossom during the spring months. But it’s not just natural beauty that UW can be proud of. Imposing Denny Hall is arguably the most impressive building on campus. Designed by Charles Saunders and opened for classes in 1895, Denny Hall is a perfect example of French Renaissance style made with unique Tenino sandstone.

1. Lewis & Clark College

(22 points)

Portland, Oregon

Lewis & Clark College in Portland has a campus that is designed to inspire students to get outdoors. The 130+ acres of the campus, which sit atop Portland’s Palatine Hill, are perfectly situated for stunning views of Mt. Hood. Attached to campus is the Tryon Creek State Natural Area, a nature reserve which has become the focal point of Lewis & Clark’s “green” efforts. The campus is full of unique architecture, some of which are modern, LEED-certified buildings, while others are original and historical. In fact, the campus has been called one of the prettiest in the country by design experts at Princeton Review.

Published November 2016


This concludes our review of the most beautiful Pacific Northwest colleges.