The 10 Best College Football Towns for Boating

Cue the Sports Center music and set aside the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls—these are the power rankings that really matter. We’re breaking down our Top 10 list of the best college football towns for boating. These are the schools where you can pack up, get going, and start your weekend party on the boat before heading to the parking lots for tailgating. With friendly competition and historic rivalries in mind, what better way to see where the chips fall than grouping schools by conference? It’s ACC vs. SEC, Big 10 vs. Big 12, and don’t forget about the Pac 12. Which conference will win out? What region of the good ole’ US of A hosts the most boaters with a love for college football? Let’s find out.

The SEC (Southeastern Conference) – Three

When you’re talking about boats, beer, and college football, you’re talking about the South. It seems that these SEC schools aren’t just leaders on the field, they’re also leaders on the water. With the most teams from a single conference to make the Top 25 (six), the SEC also has the most teams on our Top 10 list for college football towns for boating.

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Look at all that Orange and White—the Vols sure do know how to pack Neyland Stadium.

1. University of Tennessee – Tennessee River & Fort Loudon Lake – Knoxville, TN

Coming into this season ranked in the Top 10 in the AP and Coaches polls, the University of Tennessee Volunteers, or “Vols,” are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC. Not only is Neyland Stadium situated right on the banks of the Tennessee River, but the Vols are just minutes away from Fort Loudon Lake, which stretches more than 55 miles long, covering more than 14,600 acres and accounting for 360 miles of shoreline. Between Volunteer Landing and Volunteer Cove, Tennessee boaters have plenty of areas for on-the-water fun. Find out more at The Marinas on Lake Loudon.

2. University of South Carolina – Lake Murray – Columbia, SC 

Unlike the Vols, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks did not make the Top 25 heading into this year’s season—but what they lack on the field, they make up for with their boating. Located in Columbia, just 18 miles away from the university, Lake Murray is known as the “Jewel of South Carolina.” With over 50,000 acres of land and 650 miles of shoreline, the 41-mile-long and 14-mile-wide lake is a fisherman and boater’s playground. Want to find out more about how the Gamecocks go boating? Visit Lake Murray Country.

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It’s not a true Lake Martin boat party until someone waves the Auburn flag.

3. Auburn University – Lake Martin – Auburn, AL 

The Auburn University Tigers might not be considered the best college football team in the country—unlike their rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide—but when it comes to boating, the Tigers rule the State. Less than an hour’s drive from campus you’ll find Lake Martin, which covers over 41,150 acres and 880 miles of shoreline. According to many Auburn fans, there’s nothing better than a weekend on the lake paired with a little Auburn football—War Eagle! To learn more, visit Lake Martin.

The ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) – Two

If you thought the SEC was the only conference made up of winning teams and gorgeous waterways, think again. The ACC is host to two Florida schools that enjoy year-round sunshine and a plethora of lakes, rivers, and coastlines—not to mention a number of other schools that were lucky enough to make their way onto our “Honorable Mentions” list.

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Florida residents are blessed to have ideal boating conditions during all four seasons.

4. University of Miami – Biscayne Bay – Coral Gables, FL 

There’s no way we could get through our Top 10 list without including a couple of our favorite schools from the “Sunshine State.” Let’s start with the University of Miami, better known as “The U.” While the Hurricanes were left out of the Top 25, they were predicted to win the ACC Coastal Division—and when it comes to boating, they’re also at the top of our coastal line-up. Hurricane boaters enjoy spending their time on Biscayne Bay, which is located along a 35-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline in South Florida. Visit Biscayne Bay to find out more.

5. Florida State University – Apalachee Bay – Tallahassee, FL 

Almost 500 miles north of Miami, you’ll find the Hurricanes’ in-state rivals located in Tallahassee: the Florida State University Seminoles. The Seminoles head into the 2016-2017 season ranked number four in the country and have high hopes for an ACC and National Championship. As the highest ranked team to find their way onto our list, Seminole boaters can usually be found doing the tomahawk chop in the Apalachee Bay. With more than 300 square miles of surface water, the Apalachee Bay is not only a boater’s paradise but it’s also one of the country’s most productive natural systems. To learn more, visit the Boating and Angling Guide to Apalachee Bay.

The Big 10 – Two

As we move out of the South, we switch conferences and head north towards the Great Lakes. With over 95,160 square miles covered by just the Great Lakes alone, the Big 10 Conference is a host to a number of schools with great water access and ideal boating conditions.  While it’s sometimes been nicknamed the “Weak 10,” there’s nothing weak about it when it comes to boating or football.

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Wisconsin students have the privilege of enjoying a beautiful campus that literally rests on the edge of Lake Mentoda.

6. The University of Wisconsin – Lake Mendota – Madison, WI

From the top of Camp Randall Stadium, home of the University of Wisconsin Badgers, you’ll see breathtaking views of the surrounding Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Unfortunately, the Badgers enter into the season just shy of making the Top 25—but that doesn’t slow them down on the water. Wisconsin fans can find an aquatic playground bordering their campus as Lake Mendota covers 9,781 acres in a 15.21-square-mile region. For even more fun on the water, Badger boaters can head just an hour west to the shores of Lake Michigan. For more information, check out Visit Madison.

7. University of Michigan – Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, & Huron River – Ann Arbor, MI 

Ohio State fans won’t be pleased with this one—sorry, Buckeyes. The next school on our list happens to be the University of Michigan Wolverines, or “Big Blue.” Coming into this season, the Big Blue have found their way into the Top 10 in the nation. With their campus located in Ann Arbor along the banks of the Huron River, Wolverines fans are just a short drive away from the shores of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. If you want to find out more about how Michigan fans spend their time on the water, visit Lakeland Boating: Voice of the Great Lakes.

The Pac 12 (The Pacific 12) – Two

From the East Coast and Midwest we head over to the West Coast—we can’t forget about our friends in the Pac 12. With five schools from the conference falling into the Top 25, the Pac 12 is giving teams from across the country a run for their money both on and off the water.

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If you’re ever in town for a Washington football game, be sure to find time to attend some Husky boat-gating parties. Photo by: Neil Rabinowitz.

8. The University of Washington – Union Bay – Seattle, WA

From what we’ve heard, the University of Washington Huskies know how to tailgate, or should we say, “boat-gate.” These fans have plenty to celebrate as they enter into the season ranked 14th in the AP Poll and 18th in the Coaches Poll—but it’s not just during football season that these fans enjoy spending time on the water. With Husky Stadium located along the edge of Union Bay, Husky boaters and Husky students have plenty of waterfront activities to take advantage of. Learn more at the University of Washington Recreational Sports Programs: Waterfront.

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Although located in the middle of the desert, Sun Devil Stadium sits right on the bank of the river.

9. Arizona State University – Salt River, Tempe Town Lake & Lake Pleasant – Tempe, AZ

While not nationally ranked, the Arizona State University Sun Devils fall in the top two in the Pac 12 South Division rankings, only following their in-state rivals, the University of Arizona Wildcats. In a state that’s covered in dust and deserts, you’d be surprised to learn that the Sun Devils are actually surrounded by an array of lakes and rivers. Sun Devil Stadium is located right along the intersection of the Salt River and Tempe Town Lake. The campus is also just a short drive south of Lake Pleasant, which is home to 10,000 acres of water surface and 116 miles of shoreline. Interested in finding out more about these desert waterways? Check out Arizona Leisure.

The Big 12 – One

We finish our Top 10 list with the Big 12. Often underestimated, the Big 12 is a conference made up of 10 different schools spread out between the Midwest and Southwest. Out of the 10 teams in the conference, four have made it into the Top 25 for the 2016-2017 season and one has made it onto our Top 10 list for boating.

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There are only 18 coveted dock slips available for fans in the famous Baylor Basin, all of which must be reserved far in advance of the season.

10. Baylor – Baylor Basin, Lake Brazos, & Brazos River – Waco, TX

You know what they sayeverything is bigger in Texas. So there’s no surprise that Baylor University Bears fans are big about their football and big about their boating. Ranked in the Top 25 nationally, the Bears are also near the top of their conference in the Big 12, only following the University of Oklahoma and in-state rival, TCU (Texas Christian University). As far as boating goes, McLane Stadium sits right on the edge of the Baylor Basin and at the intersection of Lake Brazos and the Brazos River, which is the 11th longest river in the United States. Check out the Brazos River Authority and the Baylor Bears Sailgating to learn more.

Honorable Mentions

  • Boston College (Boston Harbor & Charles River) – ACC
  • Clemson University (Lake Hartwell) – ACC
  • Stanford University (San Francisco Bay South) – Pac 12
  • University of Pittsburgh (Allegheny River) – ACC
  • UCLA (Pacific Ocean – Santa Monica) – Pac 12
  • University of Louisville (Ohio River) – ACC
  • University of Utah (Great Salt Lake) – Pac 12
  • University of Texas (Colorado River & Lake Travis) – Big 12
  • The United States Naval Academy (Chesapeake Bay & Severn River) – American Athletic Conference
  • Virginia Tech (New River & Smith Mountain Lake) – ACC

Now that you’ve heard our Top 10, we want to hear from you. Share your pictures, videos, and opinions on the Boat Trader Facebook page and let us know all about your favorite teams and your favorite college towns for boating. And don’t forget to check out our Boat-Gating for Football Fans article for all the tips on the best on-the-water tailgating locations.

Boat-Gating for Football Fans

Hallelujah! The time has come! Somebody grab the frozen pizza rolls and fill the cooler with ice and beer. Dust off the team jersey that’s been suffocating in the back of the closet. It’s been a long, hard drought of weekend afternoon Double Reverses and Flea Flickers since the Super Bowl ended the football season on February 7. Thank goodness the 2016 preseason has arrived, with a whole regular season of gridiron glory yet to come on the pro and college fields alike.

Want to take the tailgating up a notch? Cruise to a game by boat. It’s logistically possible at a number of pro and college stadiums, and it will keep you out of the vehicular traffic snarl. All the other fans will be sitting behind the wheels of their cars, cursing the crowds both coming and going, while you’ll be hanging out on the aft deck, shouting “Hail to the Redskins!” or “Bully for Ol’ Mizzou!” (Well, that’s what you’ll be chanting if it’s my boat, anyway…)

Sitting on the shore of the Allegheny River, Heinz Field is a natural destination for boat-gating. Photo by Justin Goetz.
Sitting on the shore of the Allegheny River, Heinz Field is a natural destination for boat-gating. Photo by Justin Goetz.

Heinz Field

The Pittsburgh Steelers are legendary in great part because their beefy linemen block and tackle in the kind of weather that freezes fingers and guarantees fumbles (remember “The Ice Bowl” of 1975, when they shut out the Oakland Raiders in a 16-degree snowstorm). That kind of forecast may not make you think of Pittsburgh when it comes to a boater-friendly NFL stadium, but the truth is that average daytime temperatures range from 50 to 74 degrees during most of the regular-season months in Pittsburgh. It’s not exactly the Caribbean, but it’s not Antarctica, either. For a true football fan, it’s manageable with a comfy team jacket and hat, and the stadium is right on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, on the Allegheny River. Slips at the public docks are first-come, first-served, so cruise in early on game day. More info is at BoatLocal.

Soldier Field

If you’re of increasingly middle-aged vintage, it’s hard to think of the Chicago Bears without hearing “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in your head and remembering how Jim McMahon and William “The Refrigerator” Perry somehow became stars on MTV, right alongside Starship singing “We Built This City.” I always do my best to mentally shove that flashback aside and instead think about the nearly 80 times that Walter Payton rushed for more than 100 yards in various games. (“Sweetness” was a decent rapper on MTV, but he was a far better runner.) Even better, think of sitting on the hook ahead of Jay Cutler and crew taking the field this season. Book a slip at Burnham Harbor on Lake Michigan anytime before October, when it closes, and you can combine boat-gating with game day fun. Look for details at Chicago Harbors.

Go boating to the Dawg Pound, at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Go boating to the Dawg Pound, at FirstEnergy Stadium.

FirstEnergy Stadium

No fans in the world love their local team as much as fans of the Cleveland Browns. I can still remember driving through Cleveland in 1995, the year the team owner decided to move his franchise to Baltimore. I heard the same song played at least three times on my car radio in the span of an hour. Its lyrics were, “Go to hell, Art Modell.” That’s how angry the whole city of Cleveland was that their beloved tradition of Sunday football was being torn from their proud Ohio bosom. Today, of course, the iconic orange Browns helmets are back, and fans have returned to the seating section known as the Dawg Pound, where things tend to get, shall we say, passionate. You can join the fun by docking at the North Coast Harbor transient marina, known locally as the “Rock and Dock” for its proximity to downtown and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expect to pay a slip premium on game days. Reserve your spot by visiting the North Coast Harbor Marina.

M&T Bank Stadium

Okay, so if you read the bit about Cleveland, then you know how the Baltimore Ravens came to be. They’ve shown true grit the past 20 years, having won two Super Bowls and producing some of the toughest defensive lines in the history of the game. Chirp all you want about the rivalry, Steelers fans, but the Baltimore Ravens have won the past three matchups. Plus, Coach John Harbaugh has new options this year for protecting the movie-famous “blind side” where the real-life Michael Oher used to line up, and the rookies battling for the starting job at left-side tackle and guard look tough. Go see for yourself (and remember to eat some crab cakes!) by docking at the Inner Harbor, within walking distance of M&T Bank Stadium. Score a slip at the Baltimore Marine Center.

Everbank Field

So, yeah, the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to win a Super Bowl. And yeah, they went a pathetic 5-11 last year. And it’s true that their mascot, Jaxson de Ville, acts like the prep-school brat of some parents down the street who give him too much sugar and encourage him to rappel off the stadium scoreboard (that actually happened). But let’s look at the bright side: Even if the team blows the 2016 season the way they fell down on the job more than half the Sundays they played last year, you can still have fun watching to see what Jaxson will do next, right? It is Florida, after all. The weather’s warm and the beer is cold—and Metropolitan Park Marina is near the stadium on the banks of the St. Johns River. Slip reservations are required on Jaguars game day. Go here to make yours.

Oakland Alameda Coliseum

The way that legendary commentator and former coach John Madden used to spit the words “Oakland Raiders” through his grizzled teeth during Monday Night Football broadcasts would make half the football fans in America want to join the Raider Nation. (Nowadays, of course, we all sit on our rear ends and give ourselves carpal-tunnel by playing Madden NFL, but that’s a whole other story.) The Raiders are the kind of team that you either love or hate, but that you tend to respect and take seriously no matter what week of the schedule you’re playing. Raider black and silver are the wardrobe colors of choice on the toughest streets in nearby Los Angeles, as evidenced by rap star Ice Cube having once famously told reporters that he was going to use his income from “Straight Outta Compton” to buy more Raider gear. You can get yours on game day at Oakland Alameda Coliseum after docking anywhere in the marina district across the water in San Francisco, at the spot the locals call San Francisco Marina (its real name is SF Marina Small Craft Harbor). Take the $7 BART train from there straight to the game, no driving required. See the route here.

Voted the “most scenic football structure” in America, Husky Stadium is perfect for visiting by boat. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.
Voted the “most scenic football structure” in America, Husky Stadium is perfect for visiting by boat. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

Alaska Airlines Field At Husky Stadium

College football stadiums don’t get much more accessible to boaters than Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium, home not only to the University of Washington’s team, but also to some of the best game-day views you’ll find in any stadium, anywhere. The Cascade Range and Lake Washington are all right there—along with tons of boats that turn the lake into a bona fide “Husky Harbor” when the team is playing at home. So many boaters arrive for games via the water that shuttles are available for anybody who doesn’t want to to deal with their own dinghy. It’s the raft-up stuff of dreams for college-football lovers. Find more details at Washington Football.

Neyland Stadium

The University of Tennessee’s Volunteers play at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, right on the banks of the Tennessee River. Neyland is not your average college-football stadium; it holds more than 100,000 people, making it the fifth-largest stadium in America and one heck of a place to take in a football game. (By comparison, MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants play, and AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play, each hold about 80,000 people.) You can book a slip at Volunteer Landing, which also has a visitor’s center, shopping, and restaurants. It’s right downtown, which is abuzz with Volunteer fans dressed in orange chanting “Fight, Vols, Fight!” on game weekends. Look for slips at Volunteer Landing.

McLane Stadium

Let’s all give three cheers for Baylor University, which has fans of the Bears actually going out and buying boats for game-day fun because McLane Stadium was built adjacent to Baylor Basin, right off the Brazos River. There is such a thing as the Baylor Bearmada, an armada of fans who have their own website, Facebook, and Twitter page to coordinate boat-gating on weekends when the Bears are playing at home. Check out the lay of the land, and the basin, in this great promo video for the stadium.

Call early for slips at Baylor Basin—they sometimes sell out for the whole season. More information is at the Baylor Bears.


(Correction: A previous version of this article had the Steelers over the Ravens in their last three contests. Thanks to astute readers for pointing out the error.)