Abstract The eco-environment in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area (TGRA) in China has received much attention due to the construction of the Three Gorges Hydropower Station. Land use/land cover changes (LUCC) are a major cause of ecological environmental changes. In this paper, the spatial landscape dynamics from 1978 to 2005 in this area are monitored and recent changes are analyzed, using the Landsat TM (MSS) images of 1978, 1988, 1995, 2000 and 2005. Vegetation cover fractions for a vegetation cover analysis are retrieved from MODIS/Terra imagery from 2000 to 2006, being the period before and after the rising water level of the reservoir. Several analytical indices have been used to analyze spatial and temporal changes. Results indicate that cropland, woodland, and grassland areas reduced continuously over the past 30 years, while river and built-up area increased by 2.79% and 4.45% from 2000 to 2005, respectively. The built-up area increased at the cost of decreased cropland, woodland and grassland. The vegetation cover fraction increased slightly. We conclude that significant changes in land use/land cover have occurred in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area. The main cause is a continuous economic and urban/rural development, followed by environmental management policies after construction of the Three Gorges Dam.