Woodsia glabella is a tiny alpine and subalpine fern that grows in dry, rocky areas including outcrops and tundra in Denali, notable for its lobed, rounded pinnae. Fronds grow in clumps from a rhizome, with persistent stipes. Leaves are 4-10 cm tall and barely over a centimeter wide. Leaves are without hairs or scales above the joint on the stipe, narrowly lanceolate in outline. Pinnae are fan-shaped, three-five lobed, and are often angled horizontal to the ground. The lower pinnae are widely spaced. The basal leaflets look like gingko leaves, the upper are more divided and extended. On the backs of the pinnae, plants produce several sori. The small indusium beneath the sori is dissected into white hairs. Smooth woodsia is green stemmed and hairless, whereas the other woodsia species have brown or purplish, variably hairy stems.
Smooth woodsia is a perennial species. It produces new leaves each spring, which then die in the fall, breaking off at a joint low on the stipe. Spores are produced throughout the summer.
Smooth woodsia produces spores, like all ferns. These spores germinate into haploid gametophytes, tiny heart-shaped plants that can then reproduce sexually. Whether this species is outcrossing or self-fertile is unknown.
Woodsia glabella is a circumpolar species with a boreal-montane distribution. In North America, this species occurs across Canada from both east to west, and north to south, occurring south of the Canadian border in New England and northern Minnesota. In Alaska, this species occurs relatively commonly, primarily in the mountainous regions of mainland Alaska, rare in the southeast panhandle and absent from the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. In Denali, this species occurs in scattered localities in the Alaska Range, on both sides of the crest.
Smooth woodsia occurs on both northern and southern aspects, on low to steep slopes (average incline 20 degrees). This species also has a fairly large elevational range, growing from 213 to 1256 m, but is primarily alpine and subalpine.