Trace elements in soils might cause contamination and ecological risks to the environment with increasing anthropogenic disturbance. This study investigated the distribution, speciation, risks and possible sources of 28 target trace elements in soils of the northeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau. The average concentrations of trace elements in soils of the study area ranged from 0.25 (Hg) to 697.38 mg kg−1 (Cr). The residual fraction was the dominant host of V, Cr, Cu, Sn, Sb Hg and REEs, while Co, Ni, Zn, Mo, Cd and Pb had large proportions in the non-residual fractions. Risk assessment code analysis showed that Cd should be recognized as a priority pollutant in the study area. Correlation analysis indicated that Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd and Sn might originate from the same or similar source. The 206Pb/207Pb and 208Pb/206Pb ratios of the soils were in the range of 1.166–1.224 and 2.031–2.122, respectively. The anthropogenic Pb contribution proportion was in the range of 0–53.92% for the study area. The anthropogenic Pb contribution was higher in the areas with more intensive anthropogenic activities. Heavy metals and excessive anthropogenic disturbance should be effectively controlled in the northeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau to maintain the ecological sustainability and human health of this fragile area.