Animal Crossing New Horizons gives you a whole new island to explore – but not all of a sudden! Many areas of your island will be closed at the start of your game. Here's how to open them so you and your villagers can explore and build to your heart's content!
At the very beginning of the game, you will be limited to a single area of the island (as you may have noticed on the game's minimap) – while you can reach the square, the airport and the beach from here, your route to other areas will be blocked by the rivers and cliffs that cross the island. This means that you are somewhat limited in building your first house. Residents who join later will have a little more leeway in placing their homes, as they can borrow equipment from other players to access these areas. Once a few bridges and ramps have been built, the whole island can become accessible, even without any equipment!
You may also see cliffs and rivers blocking access to certain areas of some of the other islands you visit. The same tools you use on your home island will also help you overcome these obstacles and make your visits to the island more rewarding.
Using the vaulting pole
At the start of the game, Tom Nook will ask you to collect the fish and bugs you find around the island. Give him specimens of five different species and he'll reward you with a few different features and items, eventually calling Blathers and asking him to come visit the island. You'll be tasked with setting up a tent for the Blathers to stay, and he'll arrive the next day. Once you talk to Blathers after that, he'll tell you about his plans to create a museum on the island and give you recipes for new tools so you can help him. This includes the vault pole, which allows you to jump over bodies of water like rivers. The pole is equipped like any other tool, so you can now jump any stream blocking your path by approaching while carrying the jump pole and then pressing the A button. Unlike most other tools , this one won't break, so you're free to use it as often as you like without fear of getting stuck. If you manage to get stuck somewhere on the island (like you threw away your jump pole), you can always call a rescue service on your NookPhone to get you back to safety.
As with rivers, ledges can be circumvented using a tool – in this case, the ladder. This won't be unlockable until a bit later in the game, as you'll need to have met and invited a few animals from the islands you've visited with Dodo Airlines. Making trips to the other islands to find the two animals will require a few Nook Miles (2000 per trip, the first trip being free), so you might need some time to save up.
The second animal's move request cannot be fulfilled without using flowers as a crafting material, so Tom Nook will give you the ability to craft ladders. With a ladder, you will be able to reach the raised areas of the island and collect the wildflowers that grow there, allowing you to add more animals to your island. The ladder works the same way as the vaulting pole – it is equipped and can be used with the A button, while being unbreakable.
Ramps and bridges
Although you can access areas beyond streams or above cliffs as soon as you have designed the arch post and ladder, it is much easier to find a permanent solution – this will also allow other animals and new residents to cross different areas of the island. You can start building bridges to cross streams and access ramps to high areas as soon as you turn the Resident Services tent into a separate building. Here, Tom Nook will help you with the city's infrastructure, and you can start new projects to build bridges or ramps by talking to him. These are placed more or less the same as buildings, and you can preview each project before finalizing it for construction. Once you start a project, Lloid will appear on the site to collect Bells donations (from you and any other player on the same island) until a target amount of Bells is reached. The next day there will be a bridge or a slope at the place you have chosen. As only one structure can be built per day, it will still take some time to make most of the island accessible this way, and you will still need to keep the pole and the vault ladder handy when traveling to other islands via Dodo Airlines!