The principal control on landscape evolution in the central Great Plains of the United States over the past 10 m.y. is a contentious subject. New sedimentary data collected from Late Miocene Ogallala Group and Pliocene Broadwater Formation of the Nebraskan Great Plains demonstrates a twofold increase in the median grain size (from 20 mm to >40 mm) exported from the Rocky Mountains across the Miocene-Pliocene boundary. Paleoslope reconstructions derived from these data support the tilting of the Miocene Ogallala Group after 6 Ma, but demonstrate that the transport slope of the lower part of the unconformably overlying Pliocene succession is identical to the present-day slope. These data allow us to constrain the timing of differential uplift in the Great Plains to between 6 and 3.7 m.y.; the wavelength and short duration of this tilting are best explained by the initiation of localized dynamic topography. Our results also suggest a threefold to fourfold increase in specific stream power at this time, meaning that Pliocene rivers draining the central Rockies were considerably more competent than their Miocene predecessors. Incision during this period was not continuous. A significant episode of aggradation from 3.7 to 2.5 Ma is best explained by high rates of sediment supply relating to the warm, wet mid-Pliocene climate optimum. The modern pattern of incision on the Great Plains occurred from 2.5 Ma, and not from the end of the Miocene as is sometimes supposed, reflecting the onset of major Northern Hemisphere glaciation.