Although spontaneous activity occurs throughout the neocortex, its relation to the activity produced by external or sensory inputs remains unclear. To address this, we used calcium imaging of mouse thalamocortical slices to reconstruct, with single-cell resolution, the spatiotemporal dynamics of activity of layer 4 in the presence or absence of thalamic stimulation. We found spontaneous neuronal coactivations corresponded to intracellular UP states. Thalamic stimulation of sufficient frequency (>10 Hz) triggered cortical activity, and UP states, indistinguishable from those arising spontaneously. Moreover, neurons were activated in identical and precise spatiotemporal patterns in thalamically triggered and spontaneous events. The similarities between cortical activations indicate that intracortical connectivity plays the dominant role in the cortical response to thalamic inputs. Our data demonstrate that precise spatiotemporal activity patterns can be triggered by thalamic inputs and indicate that the thalamus serves to release intrinsic cortical dynamics.