In areas with topographic heterogeneity, land use change is spatially variable and influenced by climate, soil properties, and topography. To better understand this variability in the high-sediment region of the Loess Plateau in which soil loss is most severe and sediment diameter is larger than in other regions of the plateau, this study builds some indicators to identify the characteristics of land use change and then analyze the spatial variability as it is affected by climate, soil property, and topography. We build two indicators, a land use change intensity index and a vegetation change index, to characterize the intensity of land use change, and the degree of vegetation restoration, respectively. Based on a subsection mean method, the two indicators are then used to assess the spatial variability of land use change affected by climatic, edaphic, and topographic elements. The results indicate that: 1) Land use changed significantly in the period 1998-2010. The total area experiencing land use change was 42,302 km2, accounting for 22.57%of the study area. High-coverage grassland, other woodland, and forest increased significantly, while low-coverage grassland and farmland decreased in 2010 compared with 1998. 2) Land use change occurred primarily west of the Yellow River, between 35 and 38 degrees north latitude. The four transformation types, including (a) low-coverage grassland to medium-coverage grassland, (b) medium-coverage grassland to high-coverage grassland, (c) farmland to other woodland, and (d) farmland to medium-coverage grassland, were the primary types of land use change, together constituting 60% of the area experiencing land use change. 3) The spatial variability of land use change was significantly affected by properties of dryness/wetness, soil conditions and slope gradient. In general, land use changed dramatically in semi-arid regions, remained relatively stable in arid regions, changed significantly in clay-rich soil, remained relatively stable in clay-poor soil, changed dramatically in steeper slopes, and remained relatively stable in tablelands and low-lying regions. The increase in vegetation coincided with increasing changes in land use for each physical element. These findings allow for an evaluation of the effect of the Grain to Green Program, and are applicable to the design of soil and water conservation projects on the Loess Plateau of China.