Luminescence dating of the fluvial and lacustrine sediments from the Sala Us River valley at the south edge of the Mu Us Desert, central Inner Mongolia, is reported. The study region lies in the northwestern marginal zone of the east Asian summer monsoon and is sensitive to climate change. The dating results combined with environmental proxies indicate that the Holocene Climate Optimum period, took place from 8.5 to 5 ka ago and was marked by lake development. After ~5 ka ago, the region became arid, as inferred from lake regression and fluvial activity. Deposition of fluvial sediments lasted from ~5 ka to ~2 ka ago. At about 2 ka ago, incision of the Sala Us River was initiated into the underlying sediments, with a down-cutting rate of ~3–4 cm/yr. Since 2 ka ago, human activities also played an important role in causing environmental change in the region.