The environmental setting (e.g., climate, topography, geology) and land use affect stream physical characteristics singly and cumulatively. At broad geographic scales, we determined the importance of environmental setting and land use in explaining variation in stream physical characteristics. We hypothesized that as the spatial scale decreased from national to regional, land use would explain more of the variation in stream physical characteristics because environmental settings become more homogeneous. At a national scale, stepwise linear regression indicated that environmental setting was more important in explaining variability in stream physical characteristics. Although statistically discernible, the amount of variation explained by land use was not remarkable due to low partial correlations. At level II ecoregion spatial scales (southeastern USA plains, central USA plains, and a combination of the western Cordillera and the western interior basins and ranges), environmental setting variables were again more important predictors of stream physical characteristics, however, as the spatial scale decreased from national to regional, the portion of variability in stream physical characteristics explained by basin land use increased. Development of stream habitat indicators of land use will depend upon an understanding of relations between stream physical characteristics and environmental factors at multiple spatial scales. Smaller spatial scales will be necessary to reduce the confounding effects of variable environmental settings before the effects of land use can be reliably assessed. ?? Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006.