The Horizon Zero Dawn Real-World Road Trip Challenge
If you’ve been enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn in recent weeks, you don’t need to be told about the gorgeous environments the game boasts. The mountains, forests, and deserts of the game make for remarkable scenery, and astute observers will quickly recognize this is far more than a fantasy landscape. The world of Horizon is strongly based on the geography of real-world Colorado and Utah, and many of the vantage points you see in the game have real-world analogues you can visit. And you won’t even have to deal with killer robots along the way.
Here’s our guide to a straight-up awesome road trip vacation that you could take in the real world, taking you past many of Aloy’s sites of adventure, and simultaneously letting you visit some of America’s most beautiful and engaging vacation spots.
Note that the following includes minor spoilers for the locations visited and adventures undertaken during Horizon: Zero Dawn, but in every instance we’ve made a point to avoid discussing major plot points.
For the actual map of one potential route between the locations, here’s a link to a full Google Maps set of directions. You can check out a snapshot of that route below. Take the whole route, or pick your start and stop points along the way.
And just so you know where this info is coming from, you can check out the below in-game map of Horizon, with all the vantage points labeled. Note that our road trip doesn’t take you to every single vantage point (Faro Automated Solutions isn’t a real place). Also, it’s clear that several specific locations aren’t labeled by their real names in the game; for instance, the Air Force Academy becomes the Air Combat Academy. Finally, it’s interesting to note that a few locations in-game aren’t exactly where they are in the real world – but they’re often quite close.
Without any further ado, here’s our suggestion for your next vacation.
First Stop: Colorado Springs
Fly or drive into Colorado Springs and set aside a few days to explore. In the game, Colorado Springs sits near where Aloy grew up, and squarely under the view of the Nora tribe. In the real world, the city and its environs offers plenty to discover, including the nearby Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, and the Ute Valley Park. You can also head over to one of the game’s other vantage points, the Pioneers Museum (named the Explorer Museum in the game), which highlights the history of the region.
Second Stop: Air Force Academy
While making your way north from Colorado Springs, plan a stop at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which allows visitors to tour its campus. In the game, this locale serves as a hub for the military during the days before the collapse of civilization, but in the real world it remains a preeminent educational institution for Air Force cadets.
Third Stop: Denver
In Aloy’s world, approximately 1,000 years in the future, Denver has been overrun by both nature and machines, and its once towering buildings mostly destroyed. Today, Denver makes for a great urban stop in your cross-country vacation, including a great zoo, art museum, and certainly a stop at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; the dinosaur fossil displays there should bring back memories of fighting Thunderjaws in the game. Try to catch a game at one Denver's sports arenas in honor of the in-game vantage point of Denver Stadium.
Fourth Stop: Red Rock Ampitheater
This locale carries a different name in the game, but there’s no mistaking the sloped outdoor seating of this famous concert site. In the game, this locale is a corrupted zone, dominated by red-tinged dinosaur-like machines. In the real-world, there are lots of reasons to make a stop after you’re finished exploring Denver’s interior. Beyond the opportunity to catch a show on the big stage, the surrounding areas offer ample opportunities for hiking through sandstone cliffs.
Next Page: Continue your vacation west as you cross the mountains into Utah.
Fifth Stop: Bridal Veil Falls
You’ve got a long but gorgeous drive through national forests and mountain highways along the way to your next official stop. There are plenty of reasons to pause and enjoy the scenery along the way, but definitely make time to investigate Bridal Veil Falls, one of the most identifiable locations in the actual game. Visit this location in Horizon to wipe out the Two-Teeth Bandit Camp that has taken hold at the top of the Falls. In the real world, you can get a glimpse of the tallest free-falling waterfall in the state, and enjoy plenty of biking and walking through the area in and around the box canyon that houses Telluride, CO.
Sixth Stop: Monument Valley
In Aloy’s distant future, Monument Valley sits near the settlement of Sunstone Rock, and not far from a particularly momentous Thunderjaw encounter for anyone who got involved with the Hunter’s Lodge side quests. In the real world, Monument Valley is the virtual definition of the “Old West,” as defined by numerous Western movies over the years. In addition to beautiful views of the sandstone buttes, you can take guided tours from the Navajo tour operators to learn more about the history of the surrounding land.
Seventh Stop: Lake Powell
Continue west to visit Lake Powell. It’s just north of here that Aloy tracks down one of the last of the Tallneck machines, and climbs to its head to get a view of the surrounding landscape. In your real-world road trip, Lake Powell is a wildly popular vacation destination. We recommend indulging in boating, waterskiing, and climbing amid the red rocks, and don’t forget to set aside time for a visit to the Rainbow Bridge stone formation; we’re not sure, but we suspect that thein-game settlement of Blazon Arch might be an allusion to this famous natural site.
Next Page: Visit the real world site of Meridian, and go to Utah's tallest mountain.
Eighth Stop: Bryce Canyon
We won’t spoil here what happens at the Bryce Orbital station in the game, other than to say that many of Aloy’s questions begin to get answers at the ancient facility. Head to Bryce Canyon National Park in the real world to visit the largest collection of Hoodoos (those singular pillars of rock left behind by erosion) in the entire world. Hiking, star gazing, and horseback riding would keep you busy for a couple of blissful days as you make your way around the area.
Ninth Stop: Eagle Canyon
As you travel north, it’s worth a stop at Eagle Canyon for some off-roading and canyoneering. In the game, the Eagle Canyon vantage point offers a view of one of the game’s most important sites – the city of Meridian. The deep canyon provides a remarkable hike, and from its depths you can spy the bridges of I-70 crossing high above, much like the bridges that interconnect the different rocks of Meridian in Horizon.
Tenth Stop: Ashley National Forest and King’s Peak
Aloy has a tough climb in front of her to reach King’s Peak, and the ancient facility nearby is one of the most important plot locales in a later mission. The snowy and remote location is based on the tallest mountain in Utah, and adventurous travelers can take the long hike to its summit. If that lengthy climb isn’t for you, the surrounding Ashley National Forest provides more than enough adventure. You can take advantage of various sites for ATV or snowmobile exploration (depending on the season), or set up to camp for a few days. The area is also a well-known fishing destination. And while the fictional Horizon future does have a few animals to spy on, the real-world location offers the chance to see everything from elk and moose to bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Have you been enjoying Horizon’s gorgeous natural locales? Share your favorite spots in the game in the comments below. And, of course, email and let us to know if you decide to take some or all the road trip we’re recommending above. We’d love to hear about your experience!