Tributary response to mainstream incision is an important landscape evolution process. The objective of this study is to examine tributary valley evolution in response to mainstream incision. The Shiwanghe River, a tributary of the Yellow River in the Hukou area, was chosen for a case study. The terraces and knickpoints of the Shiwanghe River were investigated and correlated to those of the mainstream. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) was applied to date fluvial terraces. Longitudinal profiles of river and terraces were used to analyze valley evolution. The terrace sequence of the Shiwanghe River near their confluence is almost identical to the Yellow River terraces at the Hukou area. This suggests that terrace formations of the tributary and the mainstream are synchronous, and influenced by similar factors. But the formation age of the same tributary terrace varies from downstream to the upper reaches of the river valley. For such terraces, their formation should be controlled by knickpoint migration. A sudden drop in base-level caused by the Yellow River incision would trigger the formation of a knickpoint in the tributary. A new terrace would be formed as the knickpoint propagated upstream throughout the tributary valley. Due to the different erodibility of bedrock, a set of interbedded sandstone and shale, the major knickpoint would disassemble into a cluster of small ones during its propagation. The age of terrace formation with various valley segments depends on knickpoint migration rate and distance from the confluence. Vertical incision of the Yellow River results in knickpoint recession of its tributaries. The migration rate of knickpoints was affected by climate, lithologic variation, and, to some extent, structural control.