Wildflowers bloom with mountains in the background.
Wildflowers in the boreal forest.

Alaska is a big, wild place. Alaska's parks span climatic zones from the Arctic to boreal forests to coastal forest. There are thousands of miles of coastline and vibrant marine life. Terrestrial wildlife and the soundscapes that surround and include them. Alaska is geologically active with glaciers, volcanoes, geohazards, and permafrost. Explore the many wonderous facets of Alaska's nature.

About Alaska

Alaska can be generalized into a few zones characterized by the climate and other physical factors, which determine the biological communities found there.


Arctic Alaska

The Arctic is critical breeding ground for many shorebirds, some of which migrate thousands of miles to get here. Caribou herds, also migratory, have calving grounds and wintering grounds in the Arctic tundra.



Climate is a fundamental driver of ecology. Physical characteristics of a region provide a foundation that defines the parameters of the ecosystems. The climate patterns of Alaska are primarily influenced by latitude, continentality, and elevation. The high latitude drives the seasonal pattern of available solar radiation.

Coastal and Marine Ecosystems

Alaska's coastal and marine environments provide a wide range of habitats for marine mammals, seabirds, shorebirds, fish, plants, invertebrates, and many more. The rugged, wild coast of Alaska has fjords, rocky coasts, lagoons, salt marshes, intertidal zones, and tundra cliffs.



Alaska's parks have active geologic features such as surging and retreating glaciers, simmering volcanoes, thawing permafrost, geological hazards (such as landslides), and fossils that tell us about the active geology of the past and present.



Glaciers form in land areas where annual snowfall is greater than annual snowmelt.  Large amounts of snowfall, combined with cool summers and gravity, form multiple, connected glaciers over time, known as an icefield.



Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that underlies much of the landscape in the Arctic and across the subarctic. It affects nearly everything in the ecosystem, including soils, vegetation, water, and wildlife.


Natural sounds are an important part of the experience of being in wild places. Some sounds are gentle and we may not even notice them much in the background; think of the sounds of flowing water, bird songs, frogs, insects, the wind. Other sounds are dramatic, awe-inspiring; think of wolf howls or a glacier calving.



Volcanoes, while simultaneously fascinating and terrifying, are an integral part of the Alaskan landscape. People have shared the landscape with volcanoes through time and across the globe. We have learned to adapt to the dramatic changes that volcanoes cause, including recovering from short-term devastation to exploiting long-term ecological benefits. 



Large, unfragmented land, little development, and relatively pristine environmental conditions make Alaska well known for its abundant wildlife. Alaska's parks provide visitors with up-close experiences with wildlife unlike anywhere else in the nation. The large tracts of land and water within the parks serve as a sanctuary for wildlife and a place to continue traditional hunting practices for native Alaskans.

Last updated: December 18, 2019