The influence of urbanization on the temperature of small streams is widely recognized, but these effects are confounded by the great natural variety of their contributing watersheds. To evaluate the relative importance of local-scale and watershed-scale factors on summer temperatures in urban streams, hundreds of near-instantaneous temperature measurements throughout the central Puget Lowland, western Washington State, were collected during a single 2-h period in August in each of the years 1998–2001. Stream temperatures ranged from 8.9 to 27.5 °C, averaging 15.4 °C. Pairwise correlation coefficients between stream temperature and four watershed variables (total watershed area and the watershed percentages of urban development, upstream lakes, and permeable glacial outwash soils as an indicator of groundwater exchange) were uniformly very low. Akaike's information criterion was applied to determine the best-supported sets of watershed-scale predictor variables for explaining the variability of stream temperatures. For the full four-year dataset, the only well-supported model was the global model (using all watershed variables); for the most voluminous single-year (1999) data, Akaike's information criterion showed greatest support for per cent outwash (Akaike weight of 0.44), followed closely by per cent urban development + per cent outwash, per cent lake area only, and the global model. Upstream lakes resulted in downstream warming of up to 3 °C; variability in riparian shading imposed a similar temperature range. Watershed urbanization itself is not the most important determining factor for summer temperatures in this region; even the long-recognized effects of riparian shading can be no more influential than those imposed by other local-scale and watershed-scale factors. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.