Understanding spatiotemporal urbanization is one of the key questions related to sustainable urbanization in the drylands of northern China (DNC). However, urban expansion in the DNC has not been quantified and assessed effectively due to a lack of reliable data and methods. In this paper, we investigate urban expansion in the DNC at multiple scales, ranging from the whole region to four dryland subtypes, and six urban agglomerations in the DNC from 1992 to 2015. We also simulate urban expansion in the DNC from 2015 to 2050 by coupling the scenario framework of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) with the Land Use Scenario Dynamics-urban (LUSD-urban) model. Despite of the uncertainty in the research, our findings provide useful insight into the past and the future urban expansion in the DNC. The results indicate that the urban land in the DNC expanded rapidly from 4110 km2 in 1992 to 20,969 km2 in 2015. Furthermore, the urban land in the DNC will continue to expand from 20,969 km2 to 22,987-36,622 km2 by 2040, with an annual growth of 80.72-403.48 km2 under all SSPs. Thus, it is suggested that effective measures are urgently needed to facilitate sustainable urban development in the DNC.