Natural Regions Descriptions

Natural Regions of Alberta

The Boreal Forest Natural Region

The Boreal Forest is the largest natural region in Alberta. This region is made up of broad lowland plains and discontinuous, but locally extensive, hill systems. The bedrock in the Boreal Forest Region is buried deeply beneath glacial deposits. Outcrops only occur in some major stream valleys. The most prominent highlands are in the northern part of the region and drainage occurs mostly via the Mackenzie River System, although some drainage in the southern part of the region is to the North Saskatchewan River System.

There are substantial wetlands in the areas of lower elevation. Bogs, forest swamps and marshes are all prevalent. The region varies tremendously in climate and biology. Conifers and some deciduous trees make up the predominant vegetation.


The Rocky Mountain Natural Region

The Rocky Mountain Region is the most rugged in the province. It occurs along the western edge of Alberta, part of a major uplift that forms the Continental Divide. This region is distinguished from the Foothills Region by sharp, high peaks, young age and lithology (rock type). Igneous bedrock underlies the Rocky Mountain Region. The region ranges from 10 km wide in Waterton Lakes National Park to more than 100 km in the central portion of the region. Elevations rise from about 1000 m in major river valleys to 3700 m along the Continental Divide. The highest mountains are in the far north and the far south. Many of Alberta's largest rivers originate here with drainage into the Saskatchewan and Mackenzie river systems. Because of the wide elevational and latitudinal ranges in the Rocky Mountain Natural Region, the climate and vegetation here vary tremendously.


The Foothills Natural Region

The Foothills Region is transitional between the Rocky Mountain Region and the other Natural Regions of Alberta. The Foothills occur primarily along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, but also encompass several outlying hill masses. The area is characterized by a strongly rolling topography and morainal deposits. The Foothills are underlain by deformed sandstone and shale. There are extensive organic deposits in the valleys.

The climate in the Foothills is quite variable, typically with higher precipitation and warmer temperatures than in the Boreal Forest Region. The transitional nature of the forests in this region is reflected in the variety of conifers and hardwoods present here. Most of the wetlands are bogs, fens, and swamps.


The Canadian Shield Natural Region

The Canadian Shield Region comprises only a small portion of Alberta, found in the northeast corner of the province. The bedrock in the region is either exposed or covered with glacial deposits. The area is characterized by numerous lakes and little relief. The region is cool and subhumid. Jack Pine uplands and Black Spruce bogs make up most of the vegetation. Lichens and mosses are also common here.


The Parkland Natural Region

The Parkland Region represents an area of transition between the drier grasslands of the plains and the coniferous forests of the Rocky Mountain and Boreal Forest Regions. Here, the landforms are more variable than in the Grassland Natural Region. There are flat stretches as well as steeper hills. The Parkland Region is almost exclusively confined to Canada's prairie provinces, it covers 10-15% of Alberta's landmass and is the most densely populated area in Alberta.

Because of the activities and land use practices of the people in the Parkland Region, much of the native vegetation has been reduced or eliminated. Poplars, especially Trembling Aspen, are the dominant tree species in this region, and there is a considerable variety of marsh and meadow vegetation. The climate of the Parkland Region, although not as arid as the Grassland Region, is warmer and drier than in the Boreal Forest Region. The Parkland Region also has many permanent streams, lakes, and wetlands, home to a wide variety of birds and amphibians. Many of the wetlands are slightly to strongly acidic.


The Grassland Natural Region

The Grassland region is made up of flat to gently rolling plains interrupted by a few major hill systems. Thick glacial till deposits cover most of the bedrock. The two major river systems here are the Saskatchewan and the Missouri. Where valleys are deeply carved into the bedrock, badlands have developed. Exposed bedrock is almost always made of sedimentary rock however, some igneous outcrops do occur within the Milk River drainage.

The grasslands experience the warmest and driest climate in Alberta. Native vegetation here is dominated by short to mid-height grasses. Some of the animal species in the Grassland Region are found nowhere else in Alberta and a few of these are found nowhere else in Canada.