Welcome! Explore Natural Communities will help you see the world through the lenses of a naturalist. You’ll learn how to identify natural communities—predictable combinations of plants and animals that occur in predictable physical settings. In so doing, you’ll learn how to read the landscape—to notice patterns and draw conclusions. Looking at the world this way will open up a whole new dimension. It will enrich the time you spend outdoors—especially at the parks featured in this website!

Listen to a short podcast or read the transcript.


Explore Natural Communities is designed to be an engaging way to share fascinating information about natural communities with National Park Service staff members and park visitors alike. This website provides tidbits for visitors seeking to enrich their visit to a park, and more detailed information for natural resource managers seeking to more effectively manage their natural area.

If you are not already familiar with the concept of natural communities, this website will help you learn to see and understand nature the way a naturalist does.

If you are a NPS staff member, this website offers information, tools, and maps to help you interpret and manage your park.

Explore Natural Communities has much to offer a wide audience of users. See the Help section for tips on how you can benefit most from this website.

You'll find rich descriptions, images, and seasonal highlights of natural communities and their plants and animals. You'll learn about the physical settings and natural processes that help define each natural community in a park. You'll have opportunities to discover more by opening pop-up windows and following links.

You'll see that much of the information here is about specific parks and natural places to encourage users to explore natural communities on the ground. Explore Natural Communities currently highlights a handful of parks within a couple hours' drive of Washington, D.C., and other parks and natural areas will continually be added in the future.

Featured parks have an interactive map that lets you choose what to explore, with photographs, descriptions, and opportunities to dig deeper. Park visitors and interpretive staff can plan hikes or bring Explore Natural Communities along with them, learning about natural features they will see along the way. Natural resource managers can use the Measure/Analyze tool to get comprehensive information on natural features in the landscape. The Map Viewer Tutorial guides you through all this.

So, where to begin? Start HERE, then dig in and explore!

Transcript of Welcome Podcast

“Find Your Park.” You’ve heard the slogan. 

So, you’ve found your park, enjoyed the sights and the trails… But you’d love to go deeper—to see the park through the eyes of a naturalist. You want to be able to read the landscape the way some people can read animal tracks; to uncover stories behind what you see along the trails.

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Explore Natural Communities is your pocket guide to nature in the parks, complete with interactive maps and informational podcasts. Nature has stories to tell and patterns to be discovered, if you know what to look for. Come along and make your next hike an adventure! 

back to top

Disclaimer: The views and conclusions contained on this website are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Blackburnian warbler – Laura Gooch