To assess groundwater nitrate contamination and its human health risks, 489 unconfined groundwater samples were collected and analyzed from Zhangjiakou, northern China. The spatial distribution of principle hydrogeochemical results showed that the average concentrations of ions in descend order was HCO3−, SO42−, Na+, Ca2+, Cl−, NO3−, Mg2+ and K+, among which the NO3− concentrations were between 0.25 and 536.73 mg/L with an average of 29.72 mg/L. In total, 167 out of 489 samples (~ 34%) exceeded the recommended concentration of 20 mg/L in Quality Standard for Groundwater of China. The high NO3− concentration groundwater mainly located in the northern part and near the boundary of the two geomorphic units. As revealed by statistical analysis, the groundwater chemistry was more significantly affected by anthropogenic sources than by the geogenic sources. Moreover, human health risks of groundwater nitrate through oral and dermal exposure pathways were assessed by model, the results showed that about 60%, 50%, 32% and 26% of the area exceeded the acceptable level (total health index>1) for infants, children, adult males and females, respectively. The health risks for different groups of people varied significantly, ranked: infants> children> adult males>adult females, suggesting that younger people are more susceptible to nitrate contamination, while females are more resistant to nitrate contamination than males. To ensure the drinking water safety in Zhangjiakou and its downstream areas, proper management and treatment of groundwater will be necessary to avoid the health risks associated with nitrate contamination.