Norway is one of nature's last great frontiers in Europe -- mountains, glaciers, and lakes cover 70% of its land. Less than 4% of its territory, mostly in the south-central area, is arable. Within Norway's Jutunheimen range are the highest mountain peaks in Europe north of the Alps. Norway has about 17,000 glaciers. Along the western coast, some 50,000 islands protect the mainland from some of the worst storms in the North Atlantic.
Norway has a varied and changing climate. The coastal zones in the west and east normally experience cool summers and temperate winters. Inland, summers are warm, and winters cold and dry. In the extreme north, 100 days of snowfall each year isn't uncommon.
The fjords are not only a distinguishing feature of Norway's landscape, but also a special attraction to visitors. These were created thousands of years ago when the ocean flowed into glacial valleys. These "fingers" of water cut deep into the landscape. The most intriguing of the fjords, the Sognefjord, is more than 160km (99 miles) long and extremely deep.
Norway's rivers tend to be short and volatile. A smooth flow of water is often "agitated" by waterfalls and patches of white water. Because they're not suited for transportation, rivers are primarily sources of food, principally salmon. The longest river in Scandinavia, the Glomma, runs through southwestern Norway.
Norway's position on the globe has earned it the nickname "Land of the Midnight Sun." In summer, towns in northern Norway, such as Tromsø, experience 24 hours of sunshine, followed by 24 hours of darkness in winter. Even in southern Norway, the summer days are long, and the winter nights may last more than 17 hours.
Thick birch and pine forests cover the mountains; in the lowlands, oak forests abound. Spruce forests cover the southeast and middle regions. The steep mountains in the east are among the tallest in Europe and the site of some of the world's most challenging alpine ski runs. There is excellent hiking in the Vassafaret district around Fløm, where the mountains are rounded, gentle, and dotted with alpine lakes and rivers.
The mountains are also home to ravens, eagles, grouse, and gyrfalcons. They serve as a migratory home to the pure-white snowy owl. Norway's countryside and forests teem with Arctic animals such as reindeer, arctic fox, wolves, bears, lynx, elk, beavers, and otters. Along the coast are nesting grounds for puffins and cormorants; whales, salmon, and cod frolic in the icy seas offshore. Through Norway's conservation efforts and strict regulations regarding the environment, these animals and fish flourish much as they have in the past.