Cell migration is initiated in response to biochemical or physical cues in the environment that promote actin-mediated lamellipodial protrusion followed by the formation of nascent integrin adhesions (NAs) within the protrusion to drive leading edge advance. Although FAK is known to be required for cell migration through effects on focal adhesions, its role in NA formation and lamellipodial dynamics is unclear. Live-cell microscopy of FAK(-/-)cells with expression of phosphorylation deficient or a FERM-domain mutant deficient in Arp2/3 binding revealed a requirement for FAK in promoting the dense formation, transient stabilization, and timely turnover of NA within lamellipodia to couple actin-driven protrusion to adhesion and advance of the leading edge. Phosphorylation on Y397 of FAK promotes dense NA formation but is dispensable for transient NA stabilization and leading edge advance. In contrast, transient NA stabilization and advance of the cell edge requires FAK-Arp2/3 interaction, which promotes Arp2/3 localization to NA and reduces FAK activity. Haptosensing of extracellular matrix (ECM) concentration during migration requires the interaction between FAK and Arp2/3, whereas FAK phosphorylation modulates mechanosensing of ECM stiffness during spreading. Taken together, our results show that mechanistically separable functions of FAK in NA are required for cells to distinguish distinct properties of their environment during migration.