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|
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