Rusty woodsia grows on steep rocky slopes, cliffs, rocks and scree slopes. It takes root in rock crevices and cracks and at the top of rocks, wherever it finds a bit of loose soil or humus. Rusty woodsia is a circumboreal species, growing all around the globe, especially in northern regions. It is virtually absent from western Asia and not very common in Europe, other than Scandinavia, however. It is found throughout Canada, but more often in the East than the West. It is also found in the northeastern United States.