Congenital anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract (CAKUT) are common birth defects derived from abnormalities in renal differentiation during embryogenesis. CAKUT is the major cause of end-stage renal disease and chronic kidney diseases in children, but its genetic causes remain largely unresolved. Here we discuss advances in the understanding of how mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MAPK/ERK) activity contributes to the regulation of ureteric bud branching morphogenesis, which dictates the final size, shape, and nephron number of the kidney. Recent studies also demonstrate that the MAPK/ERK pathway is directly involved in nephrogenesis, regulating both the maintenance and differentiation of the nephrogenic mesenchyme. Interestingly, aberrant MAPK/ERK signaling is linked to many cancers, and recent studies suggest it also plays a role in the most common pediatric renal cancer, Wilms' tumor.