Hidden Gem Colleges in the Rocky Mountains | 2024 Rankings

Spanning over 3,000 miles from New Mexico to northern British Columbia in Canada, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Rocky Mountain region is home to some of the best hidden gems in the United States. While the schools on this list aren’t necessarily household names, they definitely deserve to be! That’s why we wanted to take the time to highlight some of the top hidden gem colleges in the Rocky Mountains.

If exploring national parks and the beautiful outdoors is your favorite pastime, this is the list for you.

To qualify as a Hidden Gem, a school must meet the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications per year.
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students.
  • Offer 5 or more unique majors.
  • Have a 10% acceptance rate or higher.

States included in the Rocky Mountain region are as follows: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

*Note: We feature the top 3 Hidden Gems per state, however not all states had 3 schools that met all of our criteria, and so may only feature one or two.

Hidden Gems in the Rocky Mountains


Competing in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, crimson and slate are the colors of Western Colorado University. 84% of students receive institutional financial aid to help cover costs. Alumni of WCU have gone on to careers in athletics, politics, entertainment, and academics. Popular majors are Business Administration and Management, Biology/Biological Sciences, and Parks, Recreation and Leisure Studies.
Location Gunnison, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,548
A liberal arts school, Fort Lewis College is located by the Animas River. Originally a military fort turned Native American boarding school, Native Americans receive tuition-free education at Fort Lewis. Today, only 38.25% of incoming students call Colorado home; many others come from New Mexico and Arizona.
Location Durango, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,400
Colorado State University Pueblo accepts almost all students who apply (99%)! The Thunderwolves are members of the NCAA Division II and compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The most popular majors at the university are Registered Nursing, Business/Commerce, and Psychology.
Location Pueblo, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,617


Did you know The College of Idaho is the oldest private liberal arts college in the state? The school offers up to a master’s degree, and graduates have gone onto impressive careers in business, politics, law, and sports. The acceptance rate is 46% and the school does not charge students to apply.
Location Caldwell, ID
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,082
Offering free applications and institutional grants to 99% of students, Northwest Nazarene University has an 88% acceptance rate, 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and 72% first year retention rate. NNU has over 60 majors available to undergraduates; many study Registered Nursing, Business Administration and Management, and Biomedical Sciences.
Location Nampa, ID
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,778
Although it was founded in 1893, Lewis-Clark State College would not get its current name until 1955. Located along the Idaho and Washington border, by the Clearwater River, the school has graduated a number of Major League Baseball players, including Brendan Ryan, Carlos Fisher, Jason Ellison, and Vic Darensbourg. The school accepts 87% of applicants.
Location Lewiston, ID
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,744


Though the school seal features two lions, Carroll College’s mascot is actually a St. Bernard named Halo. Student athletes compete as the Fighting Saints in sports like track, basketball, and soccer. The campus is located near Mt. Helena. Registered Nursing is the most popular major, followed by Animal-Assisted Therapy and Biology.
Location Helena, MT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,168
Montana Technological University’s motto of “De Re Metallica” (“Of the metals”) pays homage to the school’s original name - the Montana School of Mines. Many students will major in Engineering, Registered Nursing, Mechanical Engineering, and Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene. Green and copper are the official school colors of the Montana Tech Orediggers.
Location Butte, MT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,625
The Bulldogs of University of Montana - Western wear red, white, and black to support their school. Home to a wide range of varsity sports, the school also hosts KDWG, a radio station that serves Dillon. Many students will major in Business Administration and Management, Elementary Education, and Early Childhood Education.
Location Dillon, MT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,424


A doctor’s degree is the highest level of education offered at Westminster College. That said, only 24% of students on campus study at the graduate level. They have a good student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1 and a first-year retention rate of 75%. Students come from all over the country to attend Westminster. In fact, only 43% of freshmen are Utah natives.
Location Salt Lake City, UT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,280


The University of Wyoming is one of the rare schools that features a live animal mascot - a horse named Cowboy Joe. Another mascot, Pistol Pete, is played by a student in costume. Brown and gold are the official school colors. Also known as UW, the university is a land-grant, space-grant, and public flagship school.
Location Laramie, WY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 11,100

*Note: While Wyoming did not have any colleges that qualified under our Hidden Gems criteria this year, we included the closest match. In the spirit of Hidden Gems, we feel it’s important to include schools from all states, so students and families know about the opportunities around them.

Why is the Rocky Mountain Region a Great Place to Go to School?

For students who love the outdoors, there may be no better place to go to school than the Rocky Mountains. The area offers plenty of hiking opportunities, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, and more. It even has some of the best snow in the world – if you take Utah’s word for it! While those who don’t do well with the cold may not thrive here, it is an excellent option if you need a healthy balance of education and fresh air during your time at college. 

Interested in any of these hidden gems of the Rocky Mountains? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!


Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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