The Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB
Known as one of Europe’s most impressive hikes, the Tour du Mont Blanc has always been on my wish list of hikes to accomplish. Circling around the white king of the Alps – Mont Blanc (4807m / 15771 ft) – the Tour de Mont Blanc doesn’t only cover around 170 km (106 miles) of beautiful mountain scenery. It also runs through three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland, giving the hiker a brief insight into slightly different alpine cultures.
My quick guide to hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB is supposed to help you planning your own unforgettable adventure and hike around Europe’s tallest mountain.
Why hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB ?
Hiking in the European Alps
In 2015 I first set a foot into the European Alps and crossed the mountain range from Oberstdorf to Meran. Having some spare time left before the so called “real life” would get hold of me I decided to hike again in Europe’s most impressive mountain range from the end of Juno until early July. In total I planned 11 days for my hike. I chose the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) because I’ve heard of it for a long time and circling around the highest of the alpine peaks seemed to be the right thing to do. When I boarded my train to Geneva, I didn’t know how wonderful this trip would be!
What to expect?
The Tour du Mont Blanc offers a full board of the alpine variety to the hiker. You will hike through lush mountain meadows but definitely spend most of your time above the treeline – or fighting to get there 🙂 You will see stunning rock formations, cross sketchy snowfields (early in the season) or get your feet wet while crossing a raging river. At the end of the day you will sit together with your hiking friends – or complete strangers who will turn into the same – in a warm mountain hut and chat about today’s accomplishments.
There’s many different ways how you can hike the TMB, may it be your starting point, the duration of your hike, the direction you choose or the variants you take. But no matter how you choose to do your hike around Mont Blanc – it will be an unforgettable experience!
Things you need to know
The classic starting point of the Tour du Mont Blanc is Les Houches, a small mountain village close to Chamonix. Chamonix is easy to reach by different bus companies from Geneva airport. I myself took the Ouibus to get to and back from Chamonix. But I also know fellow hikers who were happy with the Alpy bus. I personally took the train from Germany to Geneva airport but I met a huge amount of people who flew in from the US, Israel or even South Africa! From Chamonix runs a regular bus shuttle to the start of the trail in Les Houches. You even get a free guestcard if you stay in a hotel in the valley!
The weather in the European Alps, same like all other mountain ranges on this planet, is generally unpredictable. Attempting the TMB during main season, basically July to mid-September, might lower the risk of endless rain and heavy snow storms. It is generally the best time to hike because most of last winter’s snowpack will be gone. But keep in mind that you are in the mountains and you should always be prepared for any weather conditions!
From mid-July until the end of August the trail might be packed due to summer holidays in Europe. To avoid most of the crowds I decided to start my hike at the end of June and hike into July. Please also keep in mind that at the end of August each year the Ultra-Trail TMB takes place and that the whole region will be very busy at this time.
The Tour du Mont Blanc sports a network of well-maintained mountain huts to choose from. Wheather you want to stay in these huts or if you prefer sleeping in you own tent is up to you.
Staying in the mountain huts is pretty much an experience but staying in a cramped and very often too cosy dormitory is not for everyone. I have chosen to stay in huts only this time to save some pack weight (around 2 kg for camping gear). I managed to book all my hut accommodations only two weeks prior to the trip without too many sacrifices. But it is generally recommended that you book your accommodation well ahead of time. On the TMB Homepage you can book some of the huts directly while for some huts you have to contact the hut warden directly.
Camping along the TMB is also available in many places (TMBtent gives a good insight) and it gives you more freedom as you don’t have to stick to a pre-planned itinerary. Very often I jealously watched my camping friends setting up camp before I had to disappear inside and face another night in a sticky dormitory!
The TMB is an alpine trail and can be very challenging at times. Especially if you decide to take one of the high altitude variants the TMB offers, you should be confident with some steep drop-offs and know where to place your feet! For actual information about the trail conditions please visit the TMB page.
A question that is difficult to answer because it depends on your personal level of fitness and on your hiking skills. It is definitely a good idea to prepare ahead of time by doing some kind of excercise and doing some hikes with a loaded backpack. It always helps me to prepare and to avoid injuries in the early stages of the hike.
Along the TMB are so many refuges that you usually pass ba at least one each day. Every refuge sells fresh drinks and has a free option to fill up your drinking bottle. With my 11-day planning I was perfectly fine and never had to carry more than one liter. Usually I arrived at a refuge for lunch and could fill up there.
I wouldn’t recommend drinking unfiltered water from the mountain stream due to the high amount of agriculture and livestock. And even if there are no cows, there are your fellow hikers peeing and pooping!
A word for the ones of you that come from far away: in this part of Europe it is usually perfectly fine to drink the tap water in towns and villages. No worries!
Apart from your usual hiking equipment and all-weather-clothing there are some special things you need to bring. I really only name the specials so if you want to get an idea of a whole hiking gear list check out my PCT gear list. For recommendations of good hiking gear click here.
- proper hiking boots: The hiking boots you bring should have a good profile and cover your ankle. You will see a lot of people in trail runners and if you feel comfortable with it then go for it! I was more than once happy to have my proper hiking boots!
- Hut Shoes: If you choose to stay in the mountain huts: heavy and dirty hiking boots are not allowed in most huts. Do you already have some Crocs?
- Passport: You will cross three country borders! (France – Italy – Switzerland – France)
- light hut sleeping bag: In the mountain huts along the Tour du Mont Blanc it is obligatory to use a light sleeping bag for hygienic reasons. In some huts you can even buy a light one made of cotton. I personally use a Cocoon Travelsheet made of silk which is even lighter and packs up smaller.
- Ear plugs: You will be glad you brought them once your fellow hikers start their snoring concert! Did you know that you can get special ones for women?
- headlamp: It comes very handy at night if you’re looking for the bathroom in the middle of the night. A good choice would be the Petzl Tikka.
And don’t forget about all the small stuff like beanie, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen (I burned my lips very bad!), drinking bottle & powder….
I used the Kompass map for Mont Blanc. The northernmost part of the trail is not on it but to be honest I used my mobile most of the time for navigation issues. Therefore I downloaded a random GPX track from the TMB into my Pocket Earth Pro Offline Maps App. Allthough there’s not everything marked on these maps (e.g. some hotels missing) it was a great way to navigate for me! But being in the mountains you should definitely carry some kind of paper map and not rely on electronics only!
The TMB is well-marked all over the place and if you know in which direction you are heading and which places are along your way, you should be fine. The trailsigns vary from country to country but 99% of the time it is very obvious where you have to go.
I found for myself that it was most difficult to find the trailhead in the villages along the trail.
Just leave a comment in the comment section below or get in touch via the contact form. I am happy to help!
Overview of my tour (Click on the headlines to read more…)
From the small alpine village Les Houches the trail climbs up to Col de Voza (1650m). From there a variant leads the hiker along the mountainside and climbs up towards Col de Tricot at 2120m. After switchbacking down the mountain and a welcome rest at Auberge de Miage, the trail climbs up again before finally descending into Les Contamines. Home for the night: CAF refuge Les Contamines
The second day starts with an easy hike along the valley for about 40 minutes, until the small chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge is reached. From there the trail climbs up the mountain, passing through nice alpine landscapes with grazing cows. Refuge de la Balme at an elevation of 1706m invites for a nice lunchstop before the last ascent towards Col du Bonhomme (2329m) has to be done. Another 150m of elevation gain and the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2479m) is in sight. Close by is the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme which is a nice place to stay but also very busy in high season.
From Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme a variant leads the experienced hiker towards Col de Fours, with 2665m the highest point of the whole Tour du Mont Blanc. From Col de Fours the trail descends on a steep and rocky path (snowy in early season!) down the mountain before it eventually levels off a bit and reaches the small village of La Ville des Glaciers – a good place to get some alpine cheese! From the bottom of the valley the trail starts climbing again passing by the beautiful Chalet-Refuge des Mottets (1978m) before it reaches Col de la Seigne (2516m), the mountain pass that leads into Italy. From the Col the trail descents fairly easy into a beautiful valley before finally reaching the Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini (2197m).
Leaving Rifugio Elisabetta the trail leads straight through a glacial valley with beautiful lakes and reflections (if you have good weather!) towards Lac Combal. From there the trail climbs up the mountainside until Alpe Arp Viellei Damon (2303m) is reached. The trail descends and leads across Col Chécroit (1956m) before finally descending through the charming village of Dolonne into Courmayeur. Home for the night: Hotel Lo Champagnar in Dolonne
After four days of hiking I had planned on taking a rest day in Courmayeur. And indeed this charming little Italian town has a lot to offer: may it be a relaxing walk through the narrow streets of Dolonne, the nice Italian restaurants or the various cable car options and last but not least gelatti!!
The climb out of the valley of Courmayeur is quite a tough one and the refreshments at Rifugio Giorgio Bertone are more than welcome. After the refuge the trail climbs up Monte de la Saxe – a very steep and sandy climb. But following along the ridge of the mountain the trail provides probably the best panoramic views of the whole tour! After climbing Col du Sapin (2436m) and providing even more breath-taking views the trail descends steeply in a glacial valley just to climb again and go around another mountain before it reaches Rifugio Bonatti. Cresting along the mountain and crossing some streams the trail finally descends into the Val Ferret where a nice chalet offers accommodation after a long day of hiking.
From Chalet Val Ferret (1795m) the trail climbs up to Rifugio Elisabetta (2061m) and then another 500 meters up to Grand Col Ferret (2537m) the border between Italy and Switzerland. From there the trail descends passing by the Alpage de la Peule (2071m) before finally reaching the small village of La Fouly. Home for the night: Refuge Maya Joie
The hike from La Fouly to Champex-Lac is supposed to be the easiest day of the Tour du Mont Blanc. And indeed, the trail doesn’T climb very high, instead crests along a mountain side just to descend into the valley again and stay in the valley most of the time. Champex-Lac is reached after a pleasant 4 to 5 hours walk. Gite Bon Abri is a bit behind the center of Champex-Lac along the main route.
Instead of passing the high pass of Fenetre d’Arpette the main route leads towards Alp Bovine (1974m), a charming little alp that is good for an extended break in the sunshine before descending towards Col de la Forclaz (1527m). From Col de Forclaz – a very busy mountain pass accessible by car – the trail descends further into a valley and finally reaches the Swiss village of Trient. The picture from above is dominated by a pink church. Home for the night: Hotel Les Grands Ourses
Starting in Trient the trail climbs up in countless switchbacks towards Col de Balme (2205m) from where the hiker has already a great view over the final valley of Chamonix as well as towards Mont Blanc. From the Col and the equally named refuge the trail either goes straight down into the valley or climbs up and follows the ridgeline of the Aiguilettes des Posettes, not only providing some rock climbing but also some fine views of the Chamonix valley. After a steep descent, partly with wooden steps Tré-les-Champs is reached and Auberge La Boerne (1403m) is close.
The main route from Tré-les-Champs leads over a steep ladder section. But there’s a trail that avoids these ladders and instead switches up the mountain and crosses a beautiful high-altitude valley inhabited by ivexes before rejoining the main track at La Tete aux Vents. From there another detour leads to Lac Blanc. A must-do when the weather is fine! The ascent is very steep and has a couple of ladders and wooden steps as well but it’s well worth going! The descent afterwards is rather unspectacular apart from the views and finally end at La Flégère where a cable car goes down the mountain to Les Praz which is a part of Chamonix. Home for the night: Hotel Eden
Probably the most demanding day of the tour comes last. Climbing up to Col du Brévent (2368m) and negotiating the trail to La Brévent by crossing snowfields and rock climbing sections is physically and mentally demanding! From La Flégère the trail crests along the mountainside steadily climbing towards Planpraz where the real climb to Col du Brévent starts. Switchbacking up the mountain always close to the edge this trail is not for the faint hearted! Reaching Col du Brévent there’s still a good chance for snow well into July. The trail from Col du Brévent to La Brévent is not less demanding providing a ladder section and rock climbing section. At the end the hardest part is a steep descent for more than 1400m and every knee will ache when Les Houches is finally reached.
Selected auberges, mountain huts & hotels along the TMB
Where will your next hike take you?
If you are interested in hiking in the European Alps, check out my guide to the Alpine Crossing from Oberstdorf to Meran!
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