Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most popular long distance hiking trails in the world. The incredible thing about Tour du Mont Blanc is that you’ll hike through France, Italy, and Switzerland as you loop your way around the Mont Blanc Massif. The entire journey covers 170km (106m) and gains roughly 10,000m (33,000ft) of elevation. Tour du Mont Blanc is the bucket list adventure of a lifetime, and I’ll be covering all of the details in this comprehensive guide.
- Best Time To Go
- Guided vs Independent Trekking
- Camping vs Lodging
- Getting to Chamonix and Les Houches
- Directions, Maps, and Terrain
- Gear, Food, and Water
- Daily Trip Reports
Best Time To Go:
The optimal time to hike Tour du Mont Blanc is from late June to early October, but can vary based on weather and snowfall for the year. There are times when the trail is closed into July due to hazardous conditions. I hiked during the first week of July and had snow and rain with cold weather every day. You could also hike in July and have warm sunny days. The Alps can surprise you with a little bit of everything, so come prepared for it all.
Guided vs Independent Trekking:
I hiked Tour du Mont Blanc independently, but there are also options for guided and pre-booked treks. Guided treks are substantially more expensive than independent treks, but are usually a good idea for those short on experience. REI offers a guided trek with multiple summer departures.
- Knowledgeable guides with information on the regions flora and fauna
- Meals and snacks are usually provided
- Gear can be provided and/or transported from accommodation to accommodation
- Support of the outdoor recreation economy by giving guides jobs
- Lower levels of planning and pre-trip involvement
- You’re on a guided itinerary without much room for autonomy or changes
- Limited freedom to move at your own pace and explore what interests you
- Very expensive for those on a tighter budget
- Hiking in a group with people of varying fitness levels and personality types
Camping vs Lodging
For your nightly accommodations, you’ll have to chose to sleep in huts/hotels or bring along equipment for camping. Julia and I opted for lighter packs on this trek and chose the huts and hotels option. Huts and hotels will average around $100 per night for a room or $40 per person in the shared rooms. Camping is usually less than $20 per site for the night. Wild camping is discouraged, so you will have to stick to campsites and/or ask to sleep outside of huts.
The type of accommodation varies by location. The bigger towns will have many options including some nice hotels. The smaller towns and hamlets can sometimes be limited to mountain huts or dortoirs. Julia and I opted to stay in the cheapest accommodations possible, but there were a few towns where only expensive options remained.
If you plan on hiking Tour du Mont Blanc in the busy months of late July and August, you’ll probably want to book all of your accommodations ahead of time.
Food and Water:
Most of the towns and villages on Tour du Mont Blanc have cafe/restaurants and mini marts. The restaurants are pretty expensive, so plan on a minimum of $15 per person each meal. Many of the accommodations we stayed at included breakfast, so we only had to pack a lunch and snacks each day. From the mini marts, we bought lots of bread, meats, cheeses, and candy to get us through the days of hiking. For water, we just used the available tap water.
The gear you bring will be decided by your choice of accommodations, since camping will require a sleep system. I’m not going to get too much into specific gear choices for a self supported camping trip, because if you don’t already know what you should be bringing, you should stick to hotels and huts. If you’re not going to be camping, you can just bring a 3-season day hiking kit. You can see my exact list here.
Getting to Chamonix/Les Houches
To start, we flew in to Geneva and took an Alpybus shuttle to Chamonix and Les Houches. The shuttle cost 20 euro per person, and was in a relatively new and comfortable van.
As a word of caution, make sure you don’t fly in too late without a reservation! Julia and I arrived at the Geneva airport at 21:00 with a reservation in Chamonix. We had a reservation with Alpybus for that night, but our flight was delayed from London by about an hour. Because of this, we missed our shuttle and were not able to get to Chamonix for our hotel. It was expensive, but we found a hotel in Geneva and returned to the airport the following morning for our transfer.
From Chamonix, we made our way to the nearby Les Houches and stayed the night at Gite Michel Fagot. Chamonix is a pretty crowded mountain town, but Les Houches was much more relaxed. Les Houches has restaurants and gear shops, and is filled with fellow hikers and backpackers.
Directions, Map, And Terrain:
From Chamonix and Les Houches, we began our trek and got a chance to see the incredible trail marking for Tour du Mont Blanc. This continued for the entirety of the loop. Most junctions are marked with green “TMB” signs, and many give time estimates to the next town or trail.
- Distance: 106 miles
- Elevation Gain: 33,000 ft
- Time: 6-12 days
- Permits: Not required at the moment
- Trail Condition: Lots of singletrack mountain trails with rocks and roots in abundance. This area can get a lot of rain, so be prepared for it and the mud that comes with it. This is especially important along the Bovine Trail!
- Cell Phone and Wi-Fi: Spotty on trail, but decent in towns
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a very developed trail that passes through France, Italy, and Switzerland. You’ll almost never be alone, and if you are, you won’t be too far from the nearest town. Still, you’ll want to make sure to come prepared with the proper gear, and most importantly, proper fitness. If you’ve never hiked at altitude before, plan to start slow. You’ll want to give yourself 48 hours to acclimatize in Chamonix to get started. Here are a few other things to consider:
- If you’re not going with a guided group, make sure to leave a detailed itinerary with someone you’re close with.
- Make sure to stay hydrated. Once you are dehydrated it is often too late to fully recover for the day. Mixing dehydration with elevation sickness can be a nasty combination
- Familiarize yourself with the early signs of altitude sickness, and be proactive in your approach to combating these symptoms.Altitude sickness usually manifests itself with an early headache followed by dizziness and a loss of appetite. Don’t be afraid or too stubborn to stop.
- Be hyper-vigilant of weather. The conditions can change by the hour at high elevation in the Alps. Always have your warm layers and waterproof layers readily accessible. This is especially important when heading up and over the high passes.
- Have a first aid kit, gear repair kit, and blister treatment kit ready to go in your day pack.
- Check your health care plan to see what kind of international coverage you have. Consider international travel insurance for the off chance of a catastrophic event.
- Try to only drink tap and/or bottled water. If you must get water on trail, make sure it is properly treated.
Daily Trip Reports:
Day and Towns
KMs and Gain
|Day 0: LAX to Geneva to Les Houches||Michel Fagot|
|Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines||16km (646m)||Soleil Chalet|
|Day 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux||18km (1316m)||Chambres du Soleil|
|Day 3: Les Chapieux to Courmayeur||35km (1460m)||Hotel Edelweiss|
|Day 4: Courmayeur to Chalet Val Ferret||17km (960m)||Chalet Val Ferret|
|Day 5: Chalet Val Ferret to La Fouly||15km (790m)||Hotel Edelweiss|
|Day 6: La Fouly to Champex Lac||15km (420m)||Cabanon Splendide|
|Day 7: Champex to Trient||17km (742m)||Auberge Mont Blanc|
|Day 8: Trient to Argentiere||13km (1069m)||Hotel Couronne|
Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
Les Houches is a quaint little village to the east of Chamonix and the perfect starting point to begin our anti-clockwise tour of Mont Blanc. We stayed at Gite Michel Fagot for the night, which offers a a nice set of dorm rooms…
Day 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
The first point of interest is the pilgrimage chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge. I’ve taken a great interest in chapels, churches, and cathedrals ever since I walked Camino de Santiago two years ago. My later reading of…
Day 3: Les Chapieux to Courmayeur
There is a war memorial just outside of Les Chapieux, and the thought of soldiers holed up in this narrow valley gave the morning an entirely different feel. Once we put a few miles behind us, the face of Aiguille des Glaciers…
Day 4: Courmayeur to Chalet Val Ferret
Just above Bertone, the path swept back into a valley and meandered downhill a bit before straightening out. From this point on the climbing was at a minimum, but it wasn’t long before the skies opened up. The mud…
Day 5: Chalet Val Ferret to La Fouly
Today’s hike would take us over Grand Col Ferret, from Italy into Switzerland. Walking in rain is bad, walking in mud is even worse, but for some reason I’ve never minded the snow and ice. This turned out to be a good thing…
Day 6: La Fouly to Champex Lac
The trail continued to grow muddier, the skies stayed dark, and the air remained cold. For as much as people talk about the incredible views on this walk, there have been none to be taken in since crossing Col de Seigne. Our original…
Day 7: Champex to Trient
Getting to the Bovine trail is fairly straight-forward. For a few miles we walked on or along the asphalt roads on our way out of town, until we reached the steep dirt paths marked by the TMB signs. Up to this point, we had walked…
Day 8: Trient to Argentiere
The uphill was a swirling mist of misery, but paled in comparison to the downhill portion. From Col de Balme, we decided to take the safer alternative route to Le Tour instead of the higher altitude route to Aig des Posettes. The trail was a…
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16 thoughts on “A Complete Guide To Hiking Tour du Mont Blanc”
Great and very informative post!
You are doing a great job with your blog.
Thank you! We’re planning our summer travels now, and Greece is on the short list!
Sounds great about Greece!
If you will need any info, please, feel free to let me know.
Merry Christmas and enjoy your family
This is on my bucket list. Looks incredible. Thanks for all the great info. Have you done the Haute Route? Just curious about a comparison.
It’s a great hike! We were actually planning to hike the Haute Route after this one, but cancelled due to a 15-day forecast that was all rain. We changed plans and spent a week exploring eastern Europe instead. We’re hoping to return to enjoy the Haute Route soon though.
Did you use a paper map (or have a recommendation for one)?
Hi, Inger! I didn’t use a paper map. I downloaded digital ones for my phone and used a guidebook for the color commentary.
Hi Drew, as always, awesome post!!!! Thanks for all the details. A group of us are scheduled to do this trek in the second week of July’19. So your post is great reading for everyone in the group. One question : what shoes did you use for this? I assume a solid trail shoe like Akasha will work instead of boots. Would love to hear your perspective. Once again, Thanks for all your posts. I love reading them and use them as guides.
Thanks! I wore the XA Pro 3D and Julia wore the Brooks Cascadia. Both shoes did very well. The trail is in great shape and not technical at all. It’s steep in sections though, and can get really muddy when it rains (we had a lot).
Thanks for such an informative post! Your pictures are beautiful and now I’m even more excited to make this trip!
Great to hear!
just curious, is it possible to start at any point in the route? we are thinking of going just from italy to switzerland and then spending a couple days in switzerland instead of doing the whole hike
Yes, you can start at any point.
Love your post. The photos are gorgeous. One thing though: We’ve done the TMB twice, and I question your saying the best time to go is until early October. We started one year on Sept 6th and the refugios were closing before we got around to them. (This year, we carried a tent, just to be sure.) We also got snow, starting both years at the beginning of September. I would put the latest start date at September 3rd, unless you are tenting (Which has its own issues. It was cold some nights in the mountains; we definitely needed a zero degree bag.)