The ‘Bad Times At The El Royale’ Guide to Lake Tahoe


There are fewer places more suitable to find quiet solitude and peaceful adventure than Lake Tahoe. No matter where you are looking at it from, every vantage point of the shimmering freshwater lake and Sierra Nevada mountain range could be considered postcard material. There was a reason it was a favorite haunt for legends like John Muir and Mark Twain.

Sadly, the guests of the fictional border-straddling hotel in Bad Times At The El Royale find their stay interrupted by a bloody murder mystery. Director Drew Goddard decided that somewhere set amongst the towering pines would make a perfect setting for his tale of carnage.



“There is something about the serenity out there that made the perfect place to set this story,” says Goddard. The concept came from a long-time admiration of film noirs with ensemble casts caught in close quarters, and an isolated mountain resort fit the bill perfectly. “I started researching all of these majestic hotels in the area back in the 1960s.”

The primary inspiration he landed on was the iconic, now-shuttered Cal Neva Resort & Casino, once owned by Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack cohort Dean Martin. Just like the El Royale, the Cal Neva was straddled right on the borders of California and Nevada, right on the north shore of the lake.

Goddard decided to set the movie in 1969, a few decades after those glory days, making The El Royale more of a classic charmer and less of a glitzy go-to destination. Jon Hamm, who stars as Laramie Seymour Sullivan, has spent a good time working in that particular era and enjoyed getting back into some familiar threads, while telling a whole new kind of story. “It was kind of cool to see some of the same cars and clothes again,” he admitted.

Despite the fates of the wanderers who decide to bunk at the El Royale, the movie can’t help but make us want to book a 1960s-style expedition to Lake Tahoe, a.k.a. the Big Blue. Here’s your guide on how to do it, right down to your own Hemsworth-inspired wildflower walk.

The Stay

Cedar House Sport Lodge

If you want all of the warm wooden charm of the El Royale but none of the sketchiness, the right pick is Cedar House Sport Lodge. Set on the California side, the hotel even has its own in-house adventure company offering backpacking, riding horses, and mountain biking. Make sure to grab a hardy breakfast in the lobby, including home-baked breads, before hitting the trails.

Cedar House Sport Lodge
Cedar House Sport Lodge Courtesy Image


The Ride

1965 Ford Mustang Convertible

If you want to take your experience to the next level, consider to flying into San Francisco, a usually cheaper option, and picking up your very own 1965 Ford Mustang, just like the one that Dakota Johnson’s character speeds into the El Royale with. The drive through Tahoe National Forest is one that you are not going to want to miss.

1965 Ford Mustang Convertible
1965 Ford Mustang Convertible Courtesy Image


The Hike

Galena Falls

The scene with Chris Hemsworth, in character as Billy Lee, strolling through a field of wildflowers is a stand-out. Check out this hike to the Galena Waterfall to find yourself surrounded by tall picturesque plant life like Woolly Mule ears and Crest Lupin. It’s your choice whether or not to leave your shirt on.

bad times el royale
Cailee Spaeny and Chris Hemsworth star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL. Photo Credit: John P. Johnson. Credit: John P. Johnson.

Nighttime Activities

Bar Of America

Goddard considers music the eighth character in his ensemble, and there are a few solid music venues in the area. Only a two-minute drive from the Cedar House Sport Hotel means you have zero excuses for not making it to Bar of America. You probably won’t catch Broadway star Cynthia Erivo, who plays lounge singer Darlene Sweet, there, but you can expect some great blues bands.

Bar Of America
Bar Of America Courtesy of Bar of America

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How Alex Honnold Got Strong And Conquered El Cap For Free Solo


Ever since he scaled Yosemite’s Half Dome without a rope, fellow climbers and writers asked Alex Honnold when he was going to take on El Capitan. He would always dismiss the question politely, pretending like it had barely occurred to him. But in the back of his mind, the exact opposite was going on.

“Going up El Cap was the obvious next move,” says Honnold over a green juice in New York City. “Of course, once I started actually talking about it there were a lot of people thinking that I was crazy.”



Performing the first free solo of El Cap’s Freerider route (3,000 ft.) would be a crowning achievement in an already prolific climbing career, but the legendary wall that was going to be conquered easily. Even with Honnold’s nerves of steel, and unrelenting passion for the sport, El Cap scared him off more than once. Season after season Honnold would show up at the mountain’s base and call the climb off.

Seven years passed with Honnold coming to the realization that soloing the epic El Cap was not just going to happen, it was going to take an epic effort. He upped the stakes by agreeing to make Free Solo, a Nat Geo documentary film about the pursuit with friends Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi.

Honnold took Mens Journal inside his intense preparation for the feat, which included an intense physical regime, a month-long technology cleanse, and a trip to Morocco to strengthen his skills on the mountains of Taghia.

How did you begin to prepare physically?

The thing about preparing for Freerider was nobody has ever done it before. It isn’t like other physical feats where you can pull up a website or read the book of someone who has done it before. I knew that for me to feel comfortable free soloing Freerider I was going to climb it over and over again. That meant that I had to be physically strong enough to not just climb it once, but climb it 15 times or more over the course of a few months.

How did you go about getting that stamina?

I just started by building a enormous base by doing a tremendous amount of volume. I was training somewhere around 40 hours a week. Getting up at 4 in the morning to get a full day of climbing in. That way when I got to Yosemite I was able to hike up to the top, repel down, and work on all of the pitches with a lot of energy. I was doing that day in and day out. By the time I soloed Freerider I felt like I was starting to decline.

Alex Honnold
National Geographic

How was the training specific to Freerider?

Freerider also has these really small holds where all of your weight is being covered by some intense fingering. So I was also using the fingerboard I have in my van to improve that strength. The crux of the Freerider is 5.12d, which is hard, but I have been climbing that hard since I was a teenager. It isn’t that hard truly. The cutting edge of physical ability is 5.15d, which is completely crazy and I’m not even close to that. I am capable at 5.14c, which is still quite a few grades harder than what I was preparing for. The challenge was feeling comfortable on it after already climbing 2000 feet, and feeling so comfortable that I would be willing to risk my life on it.

What was your fingerboard routine?

I was primarily doing repeaters which is seven seconds hang and three seconds off. Typically you would want to hang off edges with weights to make it more difficult, but I don’t do that in the van because I don’t want to rip my whole set up off the roof. I have a Beastmaker 2000 hangboard set up by the slidedoor of the van. So I just stuck with bodyweight.

What was your weight when you took it on?

I was at 152 and a half when I did Freerider, which is the lowest I have ever weighed on a climb. Right now I’m about 156. I was just doing so much cardio that I got pretty lean. I kept pretty serious training journals when I was doing all of it.

How did you train your core?

I did a ton of core workouts because the Monster pitch has a massive crack you have to dig into. I like to describe that it feels like a pilates workout from hell that slashes you while you are doing it. It is brutal and grim when you are in it.

How did you stay focused on the goal at hand?

Oh it was awesome. I was so into it. People knew that I was working on this project, so they understood why I was cutting off communication. I also deleted all of the social media apps off of my phone. I kept my accounts of course, but I didn’t want any way for me to access them. That meant I had nothing going on as far as technology was concerned. That meant that whenever there was a quiet moment or a gap in action I could get lost in reverie. I could sit and ponder. I didn’t have any scheduled time where I was going to meditate, but I would find myself in a bit of a meditation unintentionally because of that situation. I could be cutting vegetables in the van and then my mind may wander to this sequence that I am going to do on the mountain. Fifteen minutes would pass and I would remember to start cutting vegetables again.

How did your climbing trip you did with Tommy Caldwell to Morocco help?

I have been to that area of Taghia three times. There is no road; you have to take a donkey to get to this amazing rural village in the High Atlas outside of Marrakesh. I call it the Yosemite of limestone, because of the limestone walls. It is different kind of climbing than Yosemite, but similar in size and scale, so free soloing out there was great training.

What kind of recovery did you do during your training?

I had a nightly stretching routine that was primarily built so that I could the karate kick that I had to do in the Boulder Problem pitch on El Cap without tearing my hamstring. That nightly stretching occasionally would devolve into me just laying down on the floor for 20 minutes thinking about moves.

What was your nutrition like?

I have been a vegetarian for a long time, an aspiring vegan, and I always try to eat pretty healthy. Before I did Freerider I was eating vegan plus eggs, which I found kept me pretty fit. I commonly did a big breakfast, a big dinner, and then snack throughout the day. That is mostly a product of the climbing life rather than a choice I am making. I need to eat a lot in the morning so that I can perform. My breakfast would usually be unsweetened muesli and fruit concoction with hemp milk. I would toss chia seeds in there as well. For dinner I would make a bunch of eggs, especially since I can get lazy at the end of the day and it is fairly easy to prepare. Snacking I would eat fruit, almonds, and random protein bars that people send me. I have also liked the nut butter packs from Justin’s.

How did you feel about your performance on Freerider?

I was pleasantly surprised by my performance that day. I also experienced how much physically easier some of the climbing was without the rope, like when it came to the Monster I could get myself deeper into the crack in the mountain. You also forget that the rope gear weighs around 15 pounds, and you are that much lighter without it. That much additional weight over a few thousand feet can really make a difference.

How did you feel at the end?

I stepped onto the top and I felt so good that in my head I could have done it again. I even tried to do my normal training routine later that afternoon. I realized halfway through the workout that I was actually bit more beat up than I thought.

What do you say to people who ask what drives you to free solo?

I just love it. Why does anyone do anything? I just like free soloing. Why did Senna drive as fast as he did? People considered that dangerous too. I personally never really like cars or driving fast, but I love to climb.

Free Solo hits theaters on September 28th.

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