Ions serve as essential nutrients in higher plants and can also act as signaling molecules. Little is known about how plants sense changes in soil nutrient concentrations. Previous studies showed that T101-phosphorylated CHL1 is a high-affinity nitrate transporter, whereas T101-dephosphorylated CHL1 is a low-affinity transporter. In this study, analysis of an uptake- and sensing-decoupled mutant showed that the nitrate transporter CHL1 functions as a nitrate sensor. Primary nitrate responses in CHL1T101D and CHLT101A transgenic plants showed that phosphorylated and dephosphorylated CHL1 lead to a low- and high-level response, respectively. In vitro and in vivo studies showed that, in response to low nitrate concentrations, protein kinase CIPK23 can phosphorylate T101 of CHL1 to maintain a low-level primary response. Thus, CHL1 uses dual-affinity binding and a phosphorylation switch to sense a wide range of nitrate concentrations in the soil, thereby functioning as an ion sensor in higher plants. For a video summary of this article, see the PaperFlick file with the Supplemental Data available online.