Field-based mapping, sandstone petrology, palaeocurrent measurements and zircon cathodoluminescence images, as well as detrital zircon U–Pb geochronology were integrated to investigate the provenance of the Upper Carboniferous – Upper Triassic sedimentary rocks from the northern Bogda Mountains, and further to constrain their tectonic evolution. Variations in sandstone composition suggest that the Upper Carboniferous – Lower Triassic sediments displayed less sedimentary recycling than the Middle–Upper Triassic sediments. U–Pb isotopic dating using the LA-ICP-MS method on zircons from 12 sandstones exhibited similar zircon U–Pb age distribution patterns with major age groups at 360–320 Ma and 320–300 Ma, and with some grains giving ages of > 541 Ma, 541–360 Ma, 300–250 Ma and 250–200 Ma. Coupled with the compiled palaeocurrent data, the predominant sources were the Late Carboniferous volcanic rocks of the North Tianshan and Palaeozoic magmatic rocks of the Yili–Central Tianshan. There was also input from the Bogda Mountains in Middle–Late Triassic time. The comprehensive geological evidence indicates that the Upper Carboniferous – Lower Permian strata were probably deposited in an extensional context which was related to a rift or post-collision rather than arc-related setting. Conspicuously, the large range of U–Pb ages of the detrital zircons, increased sedimentary lithic fragments, fluvial deposits and contemporaneous Triassic zircon ages argue for a Middle–Late Triassic orogenic movement, which was considered to be the initial uplift of the Bogda Mountains.