Atmospheric particle pollution is a serious environmental issue in China, especially the northern regions. Ambient air loadings (ng m−3), pollution sources and apportionment, and transport pathways of trace (Cd, Co, Cu, Ni, Pb, V, and Zn) and major (Al, Ca, Fe, and Mg) metals associated with inhalable particulate matters (PM10 aerosols) were characterized in urban, rural village, and rural field areas of seven cities (from inland in the west to the coast in the east: Wuwei, Yinchuan, Taiyuan, Beijing, Dezhou, Yantai, and Dalian) across northern China by taking one 72 h sample each site within a month for a whole year (April 2010 to March 2011). Ambient PM10 pollution in northern China is especially significant in the cold season (October–March) due to the combustion of coal for heating and dust storms in the winter and spring. Owing to variations in emission intensity and meteorological conditions, there is a trend of decrease in PM10 levels in cities from west to east. Both air PM10 and the associated metal loadings for urban and rural areas were comparable, showing that the current pattern of regional pollution in China differs from the decreasing urban–rural-background transect that is usual in other parts of the world. The average metal levels are Zn (276 ng m−3) ≫ Pb (93.7) ≫ Cu (54.9) ≫ Ni (9.37) 〉 V (8.34) ≫ Cd (2.84) 〉 Co (1.76). Judging from concentrations (mg kg−1), enrichment factors (EFs), a multivariate statistical analysis (principal component analysis, PCA), and a receptor model (absolute principal component scores-multiple linear regression analysis, APCS-MLR), the airborne trace metals (Zn, Pb, Cu, and Cd) in northern China were mainly anthropogenic, and mostly attributable to coal combustion and vehicle emissions with additional industrial sources. However, the Co was mostly of crustal origin, and the V and Ni were mainly from soil/dust in the western region and mostly from the petrochemical industry/oil combustion in the east. The accumulation of typical "urban metals" (Pb, Zn, Cd, and Cu) showed a trend of increase from west to east, indicating their higher anthropogenic contribution in eastern cities. The winter northwestern monsoon and westerly jet stream were the dominant forces in the long-range transport of airborne PM metals in northern China, with potentially global implications.