The Ultimate Self Guided Tour du Mont Blanc Guide

by Mags Nixon
TMB with kids

Self Guided Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the world’s classic multi-day hikes that circles the highest mountain in Western Europe – Mont Blanc. This stunning high altitude trail takes between 8-12 days to complete, and is possible to do at your own pace, self guided. And with kids …..

This Tour du Mont Blanc blog post will give you all the details you need to plan your self guided Tour du Mont Blanc adventure from our 6 day Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary, details on how to book the TMB refuges (and which are the best huts), the best time to hike the TMB trail & what conditions you’re likely to encounter.

We’ll be writing all about trekking Tour du Mont Blanc with kids, any pitfalls and how to avoid them, as well as transport options such as cable cars or valley shuttle buses that will help little legs make some of the tougher sections.

It’s not about cheating the TMB, it’s about how you can make the TMB work for your family. It’s a strenuous trek even for grown adults. Parents need to know that this trek is challenging, but totally doable self-guided with kids. With a little of insider knowledge and good preparation – you can do this!

This self guided Tour du Mont Blanc blog post is long, so the contents section below will help you skip straight to the bits you might specifically want to know about. 

 

tour de mont blanc hike

 

          Self Guided Tour du Mont Blanc

                                Contents

 

 

Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary

 

The TMB trail

Whilst trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc you’ll hike up to some seriously high elevations, stay in remote mountain huts and descend into deep valleys, home to charming villages and towns.

The TMB route goes through 7 valleys and several key towns in France, Italy and Switzerland. It’s therefore very easy to hike certain sections of the trail, without the need to do the entire Tour du Mont Blanc route all in one go.

Many people hike half the route one year, finishing it the next or some choose to merely hike 2-3 days of it.

The most important aspect of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided is in the PLANNING. I absolutely cannot emphasis this enough. With good, thorough, EARLY planning, your Tour du Mont Blanc holiday, with or without kids, will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

Without careful planning, it could be disastrous.

 

Three generations hiking

I hiked half the trail last Summer with three generations of our family – me, my 65 year old Mother and my 10 year old daughter. You can read our 6 day Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary here, from Trè-Le-Champ (at the end of Chamonix valley) to Courmayeur in Italy.

We aim to complete the trail from Courmayeur through to Switzerland and back around to Chamonix next Summer.

3 generations hiking the tmb

Three generations hiking the Mont Blanc tour!

 

On our self guided Tour du Mont Blanc adventure, we wanted to take public transport wherever we could, on mundane sections, enabling us to conserve energy for the gruelling col climbs and the duration of the long hiking hours required each day (7-10 hrs).

 

Did you know? There are high mountain huts (refuges) approximately every 5km along the Tour du Mont Blanc route

 

There doesn’t seem to be any websites or books dedicated in detail on how to shorten some of the stages of the TMB, which is an absolute necessity if you plan to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc route with kids or with older generations. I’ve put together a post in more detail of the public transport options we took in our 6 days along the route.

tour du mont blanc with kids

 

What is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the world’s classic high altitude multi-day treks which circles Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe and goes through three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland.

This famous 170km (105 miles) trek boasts magnificent alpine scenery with breathtaking views over the snowcapped Alps. The trek is difficult in places with an accumulated height gain and loss of approximately 10,000m climbing over 10 mountain cols (mountain passes) and descending into seven valley floors. The elevation climbed over the entire route is higher than climbing Everest!

Accommodation is either in hotels and B&B’s in the valleys, and more excitingly, in high altitude mountain huts (refuges).

The entire hike is normally undertaken in 11-12 days but many people choose to hike half one year and half the next, cutting the circuit into more manageable one week chunks that fit more practically into their schedule.

tour du mont blanc self guided

The Tour du Mont Blanc route is well marked with yellow arrows

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Map

The Tour du Mont Blanc map below shows the 170km route through France, Italy and Switzerland.

The most popular starting point for the TMB is from Les Houches at the end of the Chamonix valley. However, you can start the Tour du Mont Blanc hike at any of the other main towns en-route (Les Contamines in France, Courmayeur in Italy, or Champex in Switzerland).

Where you start will depend on whether you intend to complete the entire circuit in one go or whether you’re only going to hike a certain section.

The Tour du Mont Blanc website has a good interactive map to get to grips with the trail and indicates all the accommodation along the route.

Later on in this post, I discuss which are the best sections to hike in terms of spectacular, unforgettable scenery, in case you only have a few days or a week to hike some of the TMB trail.

 

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail

Planning the Tour du Mont Blanc

First decisions

The first decisions you’ll make after deciding you’re going to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc are:-

1. Tour du Mont Blanc guided tour or self guided?

2. Your accommodation – camp or refuges

3. Luggage – will you carry your own luggage or use a luggage provider?


Lets go through these in detail.

 

1. Tour du Mont Blanc guided tour or self guided?

If you’re reading this post you’ve probably decided to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided. It’s definitely not necessary to hire an independent Tour du Mont Blanc guide, or go with one of the many guided tour companies that walk the route, as the trail is very, very well marked with lots of signposts and yellow arrows indicating the way. 

However, if bad weather suddenly comes in you could easily be lost on some of the high cols. Make sure if you’re intending to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided, that you are equipped with a compass, map and whistle – and know how to use them. Check the weather regularly on the run up to your departure day to make sure there are no storms predicted. 

If you have decided to go with a company, they will organise all the accommodation for you. Easy.

Walking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided does require quite a bit of planning by getting acquainted with the trail, choosing how far you want to trek each day and then booking the accommodation accordingly. It’s much easier to go with a company as everything is organised for you, but lets face it, it’s far more adventurous (and a fraction of the cost) to choose the self guide option.

Tour de Mont Blanc itinerary self guided

High mountain huts (refuges) are dotted approximately every 5km along the Tour du Mont Blanc route.

 

2. Your accommodation – camp or refuges

Camping on your self guided Tour du Mont Blanc will save you a lot of money!

However, the drawback is you’re going to have to carry a lot of extra kit. A tent for a start and sleeping bags at the very least. There are plenty of campsites along the trail, plus it’s generally accepted to camp in the vicinity of a refuge. What’s great is that it’s possible to have dinner and breakfasts at the refuges if you’re camping meaning you don’t need to lug all your food with you on the trail! You can also buy ‘pique-niques’ (packed lunches) at the refuges for around €10 each – make sure you order them the night before.

Large families wishing to hike the trail should definitely consider camping, as half board at the refuges is quite pricey. It cost us between 43-66 euros each per night per adult and between 30-66 each per child for refuges in France & Italy. Switzerland is more expensive.

We didn’t camp, but if we were to, my advice would be to set off early each day to make sure you arrive to pitch your tent in good time. Secondly choose a lightweight, easy tent to throw up – the last thing you want after a long day on the trail is a laborious tent construction. And if you’re considering camping, you must check the weather before departing – you would NOT want to be in a tent (especially with kids) in the middle of a storm.

tour du mont blanc

Day packs should be no heavier than 10kg when hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. If you think you can’t possibly manage without extra kit, consider organising a luggage transfer for an extra bag

 

3. Luggage – will you carry your own luggage or use a luggage provider?

We carried everything in our backpacks on our self guided Tour du Mont Blanc holiday. It’s recommended that each person doesn’t carry more than 10kg each, due to the long trek distances required everyday. So you need to be brutally strict with what you take. 

If you have booked to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc guided, with a company, they will arrange for your larger bags to be transported up ahead of you, whilst you carry a day pack. 

We managed just carrying our own rucksacks. My 65 year old Mother and daughter had slightly lighter backpacks than myself. I carried a few extras such as the first aid kit and the hiking crampons. You can read our Tour du Mont Blanc packing list here.

However, it’s also possible for you to arrange luggage transportation privately even if you are doing the TMB self guided. Below we talk in more detail about luggage transfers and how you can arrange them.

hiking in the alps

Is it possible to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc with kids?

Absolutely. Generally it’s advised that children should be 10 or over to do the trek, purely for stamina levels.

However, if you’re a keen hiking family with kids slightly younger, it’s for you to decide whether you think they can hike 7-10 hours a day. For most days we hiked for an average of 7 hours. It was only on one day we walked for 10 hours. I wouldn’t recommend taking younger kids with you & carrying them. Days are LONG and the cols are steep!

Our hike times included lots of stops. However I had envisaged us being able to stop to sketch wild flowers and landscapes. This never happened! Our stops always ended up being fairly brief as it became clear after the first day that, with our average speed, we had to push on in order to make it to our reserved refuges for late afternoon.

hiking the tmb with kids

Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc with kids – adjustments

When I first set out to research hiking the TMB, I couldn’t find out much information about hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided – with kids. Not only that, I couldn’t find all the information I was looking for in one place. The official Tour du Mont Blanc website is a great resource for booking refuges, but I was more concerned about knowing the reality of the distances and terrain of each leg so that I could adjust it accordingly for trekking it as a family. I knew the trek was hard and long! That much was clear from all the information on the net. But the details …. I needed details.

The guidebook Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc, Complete two-way trekking guide by Kev Reynolds published by Cicerone is an excellent pocket sized book which most people (me included) buy to research and accompany them on the trek. It’s a fabulous book but the timings don’t take into account stoppages of any account, so it is hard to plan actually how long each day, in reality, will take.

In every blog post or account I read online, everyone said to add at least 2 hours onto Kev Reynolds times and that was WITHOUT kids. I wanted to make sure it was doable with kids and not only that that they would actually enjoy it. 

walking the tmb

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” said Winston Churchill. Here is a ‘clean’ version of our TMB planning – the first was incoherent after my scribbled notes!

 

I pieced together what sections of the trek were completely missable ie: long sections along a road once the route hits a valley. Why not catch the public bus that’s driving by and save legs for the good stuff?

The valley floors do actually have a TMB footpath that disappears into the woodland cutting along the valley rather than walking alongside the tarmac road, but you get my drift. We decided to cut any mundane sections and focus on the highlights of the trek.

I couldn’t find a source of information that gave me detailed knowledge of the short cuts we could take by catching public transport. For example you can catch cable cars or chair lifts up and down the mountains, and take public buses or shuttle buses along some of the valley floors. Without doing this our daily hike times would have jumped from long but doable, to impossible.

We talk about all of our trail short cut public transport options to help families get a jump ahead on the TMB trail in our post here.  Do note that most of these short cut transport options are only available in July and August.

My worry was, as we were hiking with my 10 year old, if any of our days were ridiculously long, we would be dragging her along and she’d be absolutely shattered. Not much enjoyment there.

tour du mont blanc hike

Expect some challenging climbs on the TMB. This face says it all!

 

Another important question to ask yourself is whether your kids are actually going to enjoy the long strenuous days on the trail or whether you’re dragging them along on the holiday you want to do?

If it’s the latter, consider only doing a few days of the trail, as they won’t enjoy it. Or wait a few more years until they’re older and stronger. More likely it’s a bit of both. In that case, try to plan shorter days.

Of course, there will be moments when fatigue kicks in, not only for kids, but undoubtedly for adults as well. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a mighty challenge! Make sure your kids are match fit before starting the hike and up to hiking 7-10 hour days.

 

When trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc with kids …..

….. help them out and make sure they’re equipped with the right kit! The most important gear are good sturdy hiking boots (obviously), quick drying clothes and good hiking poles.

We bought the Black Diamond First Strike hiking poles which we would highly recommend. They are specifically designed for kids and are both lightweight & telescopic. 

You can read our packing list post here.

trekking the tour du Mont Blanc with kids

 

Tour du Mont Blanc When To Go

The Tour du Mont Blanc trail is open from June to September.

The busiest times on the trail are the summer holidays in mid-July and August. The quietest times to hike are June and September.

But there’s a lot more to consider than purely the busiest and quietest times. Conditions on the trail are much more hazardous in June and early July due to avalanche risk and snow on the trail, plus if you want to take any of the public transport options, you will be limited to peak season.

tmb when to go

Tour du Mont Blanc conditions

There can be snow on the TMB trail well into July. For security take a pair of hiking crampons with you if you plan to hike the TMB in June or July

 

June is a fantastic time to hike the trail as all the wild flowers are in their glory, however there is often snow (névé) left on the trail from Winter, depending on how much snow fell during Winter.  

If you’re considering hiking in June, you would need to take hiking crampons, and possibly ice axes and ropes to safely cross some sections on the high altitude cols. In fact, the trail is often closed until the last week of June because of the bad trail conditions. In this case you would need to cancel your refuge bookings & re-arrange. Definitely not an option if you’re flying in from outside Europe to walk the trail.

Predicting the level of snow still left on the trail & the avalanche risk in June is extremely hard to forecast. This, of course, poses a problem for in planning your trip. To be safe I’d book at the earliest for the last week in June, when it would still be advisable at the very least to take hiking crampons.

If you’re keen to hike in June, my advice would be to contact the mountain guides’ office in Chamonix and ask their opinion on the conditions on the trail. They are well placed to tell you what equipment you would need to safely trek the route. Some Junes are fine, others a bit more dangerous.

Be aware that the TMB trail takes you through wild & savage high mountain cols, where it’s possible to slip and die. Precautions and safety are serious business. 

 

Mid July and August is peak season and the trail does become crowded, however the upside is the public transport options (cable cars and valley shuttle buses) will be running.

Do look up the dates for the UTMB if you are thinking of booking for the very end of August or the beginning of September. This ultra trail mountain marathon takes place on the TMB route and will be rammed during the week that it is on. Plan to avoid this.

We hiked the trail from July 9th. The French schools had broken up but the English schools hadn’t. The trail was still busy, but not rammed.

 

September is the perfect month to beat the crowds. The weather is still good, there’s no snow left on the trail and accommodation will be easier to book. Difficult for families limited to term time.

 

WHEN IS THE PERFECT TIME TO HIKE THE TOUR DU MONT BLANC?
  
Anytime from
the end of June – mid July or during September

 

hiking the alps wild flowersWe hiked the trail from the 9th of July (when the French schools had broken up but the UK schools hadn’t). This way it wasn’t too rammed but it was still busy. All of the public transport options were running at this point.

We took hiking crampons with us to safely cross any névé snow still on the trail. We used them twice, once climbing the Col du Bonhomme, and the second time skirting along the route along the south flank of the Val Veni on the route to Courmayeur.

We probably could have managed without, but being lightweight, they are easy to carry and we didn’t want to take the risk with either my Mother or my daughter.

These were the hiking crampons we bought for the trek – they were excellent and I can highly recommend them.

TMB direction

Should I hike the Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise or counter-clockwise?

As the Tour du Mont Blanc is a circular tour, you can hike the route in either direction, however traditionally the Tour du Mont Blanc is hiked counter-clockwise. It’s said that you have better views of Mont Blanc as you’ll be walking towards the famous peak, and this is certainly true on Stages 10 and 11 (from Tré-le-Champ to Les Houches.

However, because most hikers walk the trail in this direction, there are a LOT of people moving this way along the route and you will generally meet a lot of the same people in the refuges at night.

Some people prefer to hike clockwise purely to avoid this traffic. Obviously you’ll still get traffic coming towards you, but the first few hours on the trail will be gloriously quiet and you will probably have the trail to yourself. You’ll also avoid large groups of hikers overtaking you constantly.

 

tour de mont blanc circuit

The view of Chamonix town from the balcony walk dropping down into Les Houches from Brévent (stage 11)

 

The Kev Reynolds Cicerone guide, The Tour du Mont Blanc, details the route in BOTH directions which is very useful.

We hiked the counter-clockwise traditional direction and relished the views we drank in everyday before us. Plus for our first time hiking the trail with a child and a member of the older generation, there was comfort in having others not too far away, just in case..

We hiked the trail mid July (when the French schools had broken up but the UK schools hadn’t yet). The trail was still busy and we did have a lot of hikers overtaking us, but it didn’t bother us too much.

It would be interesting to do it clockwise another time to compare the difference.

NOTE:

If you are considering hiking clockwise, Kev Reynolds suggests in his guidebook, to not start from the traditional starting point of Les Houches as the climb up to Brevent on the first day would be a killer. Instead he recommends starting from Champex or Argentiere.
 
Get his book – it’s the first thing to do after general internet browsing, on planning your trip.

hiking the alps

Hiking half the Tour du Mont one year and the rest the next year

Many people choose to split the trek over two years, hiking one half one year and returning the following year to finish it. 

We didn’t have enough time to hike the entire circuit of the Tour du Mont Blanc in one go, plus it was our first multi-day hike for all of us (me, my 10 year old daughter and my 65 year old Mother) so I figured it was wise to be prudent.

We decided to hike only half the trail from Tré-le-Champ (at the far end of the Chamonix Valley) to Courmayeur in Italy. We split this into 6 days and in fact my daughter and I did day treks for the first two days, as we are based in the Chamonix valley and my Mother joined us for the 4 days from Les Houches to Courmayeur.

tour du mont blanc flowers

Which sections of the Tour du Mont Blanc to hike if you only have a few days or a week?

So if you’ve only got the limited period of time of one week – which sections are the best? 

When planning our Tour du Mont Blanc trip – this is exactly what I wanted to know. Which were the best bits and were there any sections that we could easily skip?

I read hundreds of blogs and mapped out the route on one of those Ikea rolls of paper. After reading many accounts of people’s experiences, it generally seems that the scenery that is most spectacular is as below.

Bear in mind that all these stages we actually trekked, as I built them into our 6 day half TMB itinerary, so I can vouch for how utterly incredible they are. However, we have not, as yet, hiked the remaining half of the tour from Courmayeur in Italy and through Switzerland, so whether they are the best bits remains to be seen.

 

What are the most spectacular stages of the TMB?

Stage 10 – Trè-le-Champ – La Flégère & Stage 11 – La Flégère – Les Houches

Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère and La Flégère to Les Houches have magnificent jaw dropping views over the Chamonix valley and Mont Blanc.

Stage 2 Les Contamines to Les Chapieux and Stage 3 Les Chapieux to Elisabetta or Lac Combal

The route from Les Contamines to Refugio Elisabetta/Lac Combal crosses the wild, savage terrain across the two infamous cols. Col du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. 

 

 

I planned our 6 day itinerary to include all the unmissable scenery stages, even though the route from Courmayeur to Chamonix is generally accepted to be easier than the other half (Les Houches to Courmayeur).

 

Stages to miss on the TMB if time is short

Stage 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines

Les Houches to Les Contamines is a lovely walk through charming villages and alpine pastures but has none of the breathtaking beauty of the above recommended sections. It is easily missable on the tour and it’s possible to get a taxi from Chamonix to Les Contamines (40 mins) if necessary to miss out this day.

trekking the tour du Mont Blanc with kids

Planning the Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary (with kids)

Planning is key to the Tour du Mont Blanc. I researched long and hard about which legs to make longer or shorter depending on difficulty of terrain. The refuges are all so varied in size, comfort and quality so this also makes a difference to where you want to rest for the night and has a knock on effect on how long each day is.

In actual fact planning your Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary is the hardest part of the trek.

First you need to work out how far and how long you want to trek each day, taking into consideration the difficulty of the terrain on any one section.

Then you need to separately make bookings for each nights stay in a refuge. The difficulty is that unless you book EARLY (and I mean from around February/March) then some of your chosen refuges may already be full on your chosen night, which has a knock on affect of going back to your itinerary to change daily hike distances accordingly to find a refuge that does have availability.

 

Did you know?

The Tour du Mont Blanc trail goes over 10 mountain passes (cols) and along 7 valley floors.

 

To avoid this circle of pain, book early around February.

The Tour du Mont Blanc website has an excellent planning and booking system where you can type in which direction you wish to hike the TMB circuit and it will calculate the accommodation options for you.

The trouble is that not all of the refuges are on the system. Some are privately owned, meaning that you have to contact them separately (and some refuges are not super quick to get back to you!).

Not only that, some refuges are more desirable to stay in than others, so it’s worth knowing that an extra 50 minute hike on one day can make a big difference to the standard of your accommodation. 

 

shuttle bus TMB

Use all the transport options on the TMB trail to make the Tour du Mont Blanc achievable with kids. This shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Les Mottets Parking cuts an hour off a demanding day.

 

Transport Options on the Tour du Mont Blanc

To make the Tour du Mont Blanc achievable with kids, take all the TMB transport options available to you. We did. And it still took us an average of 7 hours on the trail each day with kids.In fact, I don’t think we could have completed the half circuit of the Tour du Mont Blanc without taking these leg savers on certain sections.

Don’t worry these transport options don’t interfere with the TMB good stuff. They are mainly chair lifts or cable cars up or down the mountain or a public bus along a valley floor, covering mostly boring sections of the trail.

Of course, the valley trails don’t directly follow the asphalt road. It does weave in and out along the valley floor, so TMB purists can go for it.

We don’t regret one iota taking the bus or the cable cars up – it definitely made the TMB doable for us.

Taking these transport options will add to the budget of your TMB adventure, but for us, it was worth the extra cost.

You can read in detail about all the transport options we took to shave hours off the TMB trail here.

 

hiking hut to hut in the alps

Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary

We hiked for 6 days to cover half of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Our Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary takes in arguably the most spectacular scenery on the TMB trail going in the traditional counter clockwise route starting from Tré-le-Champ in France to Courmayeur in Italy.

I researched hard to find out which were the truly unmissable sections which meant we needed to include the famous ‘Le Grand Balcon Sud’ over La Flégère and Brévent in the Chamonix valley, which boasts incredible views over Mont Blanc. These are traditionally the last two stages of the trek but we actually started with these two days, and then hiked the remaining four days over from Les Houches to Courmayeur in Italy over wild, sparse mountain cols.

You can read our 6 day half circuit Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary here

The Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges

The Tour du Mont Blanc refuges come in all shapes and sizes and so it’s good to know ahead of time what you’re booking into. Grotty hovel or cheerful hut.

One thing the Kev Reynolds Cicerone guide doesn’t give is any information on the standard and quality of each refuge along the Tour du Mont Blanc route.

Trekking it with my 10 year old daughter and 65 year old Mother, I wanted our refuge stays to be special and unforgettable and so knowing which were the best refuges to stay in was really important.

Read our full guide on the TMB refuges we stayed in and others we’ve heard about here.

 

Refugio Elisabetta perched on a spur of the Pyramides Calcaires and backed by the Glacier d’Estelle and Glacier de la Lée Blanche is set in a magical setting. If you want more luxury than this basic high mountain hut, continue an hour further on the trail to Refugio Lac Combal

 

Booking the refuges

The TMB website has a good booking system and will even calculate the nearest places for you to stay if you input how far you want to walk each day or for how long. Many of the refuges are on the online system. Some however are privately owned and so will require an email (or phone call) to book. 

Some refuges are extremely popular and will book up quickly (TMB tour operators often blanket book and then cancel beds later) so it’s wise to plan your trip and book as early as February to secure particular refuges you might want to stay in.

Bear in mind also that whilst some refuges are cavernous sleeping up to 80 trekkers (Elisabetta or Bonatti) others are small, sleeping merely 24 (Nant Borrant) so check the details of each refuge first to ascertain the urgency of when (or if) to book. 

refuge dormitory on the TMB trail

A cosy 6 bed dorm in the lovely Nant Borrant refuge. Ask when booking to stay in the smallest dorm possible to help reduce night time noise (& take a pair of ear plugs!)

Some refuges are in particularly sought after geographical locations, like a bottle neck on the route, where demand outstrips supply.

Les Chapieux is one of these places and I would (given my experience) definitely make this one of the first refuges to book.

If you don’t secure Les Chapieux, you’re faced with a taxi or a shuttle bus (if you manage to catch the last one) down the valley to the town of Bourg St Maurice and the faff of having to get transportation back to the trail the next morning.

Or a better option would be to book the next refuge – Les Mottets which has shuttle buses running to it from Les Chapieux until approx. 16.30 (or else it’s a further 1 hour walk). All of this is avoided if you book early. I talk more about this in our dedicated Refuges of the TMB post.

 

Take cash

You don’t have to pay in full upon booking in most of the TMB refuges. Just a deposit online, then pay cash on arrival. It’s therefore essential to take a lot of cash with you on the trek.

Of course there are only ATMs in the main towns on the route, Chamonix, Les Houches, Les Contamines, Courmayeur and Champex, so prepare accordingly and stock up on cash when you can.

Some refuges, such as Refugio Elisabetta, cannot take payment online or over the phone and will only accept the full payment, in cash, on arrival.

Lac Combal refuge italy

Cabane Lac Combal is at the end of the Roman road leading from Refugio Elisabetta. If you fancy en-suite bedrooms over the hustle and bustle of basic Elisabetta, book here (40-50 mins down the road from Elisabetta)

 

How much are the refuges?

There are two options to stay at refuges. Demi-pension (dinner, bed & breakfast) or nuitée (bed only).

In the TMB refuges expect to pay between:

€40-60 per night for dinner, bed and breakfast for refuges in France and Italy

€60-80 per night in Switzerland

For example Nant Borrant refuge is charging €20 per night, dorm only and €44 demi-pension in summer 2019. 

Whilst taking the bed only option is much cheaper, I wouldn’t fancy lugging my own food along with me on the trail. You would only be able to stock up at the main towns & the trail is hard enough as it is without food weighing you down. If you’re planning on doing the TMB on a budget, consider camping and eating at the refuges instead.

What we paid in the TMB refuges:

Nant Borrant €43 adult/€30 child

Refuge de la Nova – €66 each for 3 sharing a private room (no ensuite)

Refuge Elisabetta – €47 half board per dorm room or private twin bunk room half board for €60 each with pull out third bed. My daughter slept on the pull out third bed and paid €45 half board.

Note: The dorms are not ideal in Refuge Elisabetta – one dorm has a triple sleeping platform where you’re literally touching the next person and the attic dorm, whilst there is only one sleeping platform is enormous and trekkers are squeezed in like sardines.

camping col de croix du bonhomme

Camping at 2433m outside the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Camping

Camping is the cheapest option whilst hiking the TMB. If you can keep your camping kit to a minimum then you’re onto a winner as refuges are not cheap.

There are campsites on much of the route particularly around the towns, such as the campsite near Gorge de la Notre Dame, just outside Les Contamines. 

However, once you set off onto the wilder sections of the TMB note that whilst wild camping is frowned upon, it is generally accepted within the vicinity of a refuge, particularly if you are going to have your evening meal at the refuge.

These relaxed camping rules means that you can save on accommodation and avoid lugging food along on the trek.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Bivouac

camping tour du mont blanc

There are plenty of places to bivouac on the Tour du Mont Blanc. Many of them have basic facilities such as a compostable toilet. The bivouac site at La Balme refuge just before the Col du Bonhomme  (stage 2 Les Contamines to Les Chapieux) has excellent reviews.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Weather

Check the weather on the lead up to your TMB departure date. If you’re starting in Chamonix the ‘Office de la Moyenne et Haute Montagne’ near the tourist office (Place de l’Eglise) is a brilliant place to do this. Trained staff there offer advice and information (in English) to anyone venturing into the mountains. You can get information on weather forecasts, the state of the trails (snow coverage etc), refuge opening and closure dates and general advice on your choice of route to help you plan your adventures.

For all the useful emergency services numbers head to Chamonet’s  emergency services page and save the numbers before embarking on your TMB hike.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Altitude

Whilst the Tour du Mont Blanc trail climbs some high cols, don’t worry you won’t be affected by altitude sickness.

The highest altitude the traditional TMB route reaches is 2600m and on the variant trails is 2800m. Altitude sickness occurs over 3000m but much more frequently nearer 4000m.

You definitely may feel a shortness of breath and a quickening of the pulse at times but this is normal. Take your time on steep sections and rest when you feel you need to.

The best thing you can do is to make sure you are fit for the Tour du Mont Blanc before arriving. Don’t underestimate the challenge of this epic world famous trail. Make sure you’ve prepared yourself by hiking on some long trails beforehand and if possible, on back to back days. And with a full backpack. 

The town of Chamonix lies at an elevation of 1035m, whilst Courmayeur is at 1224m, so these are base line altitudes you will be living at before and after your trek. Make sure you have at least one night in Chamonix (or wherever you start your trek) so that your body can acclimatise to the altitude before you set off.

Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty

The Tour du Mont Blanc is certainly a challenge. This 170km route has over 10,000km of elevation – over a kilometre more than Everest!

What is critically important prior to tackling the Tour du Mont Blanc, is proper training.

You should be fit enough to cope with the long days and strenuous uphill climbs on the route. Try to plan your training schedule early starting with regular walks that increase in elevation. Be sure to train with a backpack on too and steadily work up to hiking on consecutive days. 

The fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the trail, rather than merely slogging it out. That said, I don’t think anyone, of any fitness, finds the TMB easy. 

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List

what to pack for the tour du Mont BlancIf you’re planning to carry just the pack on your bag for the TMB (which we would recommend), your Tour du Mont Blanc packing list should be minimal but include some important items.

Our entire TMB packing for the three of us is laid out in the photo above. See what I mean – minimal.

Trust me, our packs began to weigh us down after hours on the trail so you definitely don’t want to be packing more than 10kg (the recommended weight for your day pack). 

You can read our detailed Tour du Mont Blanc packing list post here, which talks through some obvious items but others less so. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on packing or anything on trekking the TMB.

guidebook tour du mont blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc Book

The Kev Reynolds Cicerone guide book is invaluable to your planning and should definitely be your first point of call in planning your Tour du Mont Blanc hike. It’s got detailed information on trekking the TMB both in the traditional anti-clockwise direction and clockwise, plus it’s small enough to take with you on the trek and comes in a practical water proof sleeve.  

Whilst this guide book does give hiking times between each stage, the stated times are without stops and having read LOTS of blogs of hikers trekking the TMB in my research before the trek, it was clear that Kev Reynolds times are much faster than the average person can trek.

However, the Tour du Mont Blanc Trailblazer guide book by Jim Manthorpe has excellent maps and describes the trail in detail. It might be a case of some of you in your group buying one or the other and then comparing. Both are a similar size, small enough to take with you on the trail.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Trail Maps

There are a number of maps for the Tour du Mont Blanc, some better than others.

We bought the No 1 Tour du Mont Blanc hiking map by L’Escursionista locally in Chamonix but you can now buy it on Amazon as well (link above). We used this a lot and it is useful as the entire route is on one map. 

However, you also need the more detailed maps below to assess elevation and to really be able to follow the trail in bad weather.

IGN 3630 OT Chamonix / Massif du Mont Blanc (1:25,000)

IGN 3531 ET St Gervais / Massif du Mont Blanc (1:25,000)

We didn’t find the  IGN 2247130 Tour du Mont Blanc map very useful as it’s not detailed enough (1:50 000). It does gives an overview of the whole route but the L’Escursionista map is better for this.

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Luggage Transfer

It’s still possible to arrange luggage transfers along the trail, even if you are trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided, if you feel you are unable to keep your luggage to a minimum. However, bear in mind that it’s impossible for your luggage to meet up with you on  some sections as there are parts of the trail with no roads (over the cols) so there could be 2-3 days where you would be without your luggage and just have your day pack.

You can arrange luggage transfers through CVT (Chamonix Valley Transfers) or Taxi Besson. 

Taxi Besson has traditionally been the go to luggage transfer option for self guided TMB trekkers. Reviews are great (check trip advisor) but the cost is high with fees being approximately €120 for a 15kg bag for 4 bag drops. You can book your luggage transfer online.

A much more affordable option is through CVT. Chamonix Valley Transfers charge approx €65 per bag per person for the classic TMB route with 6-7 baggage drops. For groups of 4 trekkers, the price decreases marginally to approximately €55 per person per bag. There is no weight restriction per se but the driver must be able to comfortably lift the bag! There is no info on CVT’s website regarding TMB luggage transfers but trust me, they do operate this service. Give them a call or message them direct (the company is run by English so language will not be an issue).

animals on the tour du mont blanc trail

Related TMB content

Read day 1 (stage 10) Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère

Read day 2 (stage 11)  La Flégère to Les Houches

Read day 3 (stage 1) Les Houches to Les Contamines (& onto Nant Borrant refuge)

Read day 4 (stage 2) Nant Borrant Refuge to Les Chapieux

Read day 5 (stage 3) Les Chapieux to Refugio Elisabetta

Read day 6 (stage 4) Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur

Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List

Ultimate guide to your self guided Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges – the good, the bad & the ugly

Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty? Transport options on the TMB

6 Day Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary (half circuit)

Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty – Can You Manage the Ladders?

 

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tour du mont blanc self guided

 

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10 comments

Yehiel Goldstein 24th May 2019 - 12:38 pm

Hello,
My name is Yehiel Goldstein from Israel.
Me and my wife are experienced trekkers. Ages 70 and 66.
Our last trek was the Annapurna trek in Nepal.
We wish to do the Tour Mont Blanc toward the end of June, with any service we can get from you, including luggage transfer and reservations.
We would like to walk some 7 – 8 walking days, hopefully not beyond 15 km/day, but we can be flexible. We do not walk on Saturday.
I hope we can still do it before the peak season, when the trek and the hotels will be too crowded.
I would appreciate if you can send us a proposal according to our needs.
Thank you!
Yehiel Goldstein
+972 52 627 8883
elrad@netvision.net.il

Reply
Mags Nixon 1st June 2019 - 6:47 pm

Hi Yehiel. You guys sound like you know what you’re doing! Wow Annapurna! I hope I’m still trekking at your ages. Very inspiring. I’m afraid I’m not a travel agent or trekking company that you can book with so unfortunately I can’t help you book any of your legs on the TMB route. I’ve heard very good things from a company called Mont Blanc Treks so take a look at their website. June is often an uncertain month to trek as some of the trail can still be covered in snow from the Winter so often crampons and ropes are still required on certain sections, but contact Mont Blanc Treks and they will have more idea of the condition of the route. Good luck. I’d love to hear how you get on. It’s certainly a truly amazing trek.

Reply
Chris Jackson 6th June 2019 - 7:20 am

Hi Mags,

As part of a ‘significant’ birthday this year for me, my wife and I will be walking the TMB in July (much the same time as you did part of it last year) and, as part of my research, I came across your blog in May. When doing my initial planning at the end of 2018, the Family Freestylers website didn’t pop up in a Google search (- I wish it had!) because I guess you only wrote/published the content in early 2019.

Anyway, my “I wish it had” comment reflects how VERY good I have found your descriptions, reflections, suggestions, etc., etc. and so I thought I had to let you know. Whether it’s:
. nature of the challenge of getting to Les Chapieux (- eek!);
. the tip to buy the Navette tickets at Les Chapieux the afternoon before;
. the indications where there is/isn’t water;
. the lift suggestions to get down to Courmayeur (- it looks like both lifts will run for our timetable); or,
. the detailed pictures of the ladders above Argentière (- we’ll probably use the Col des Montets variant) …

… your intell has been extremely useful for me to read … and I’m sure for others too :).

My best wishes for your TMB completion this August !

Warm regards,
Chris Jackson

Reply
Mags Nixon 6th June 2019 - 8:39 pm

I’m so glad that our posts have helped you plan your TMB adventure Chris! It’s always so rewarding when I hear feedback from readers. Please do let me know how you get on in July. Fingers crossed for fair weather for you. Enjoy! It really is a spectacular trek!

Reply
Jaye Jacques 11th July 2019 - 6:48 pm

Hi Mags Good information for these stages, thanks. We are just now planning a start in Courmayeur, counter clockwise, and trying to take shorter, and more, stages. Hence we plan to walk up the valley with stops at Hotel Lavachey, Rifugio Elena, walk and bus combo to Hotel Edelweiss, bus and walk combo to pension en Plein Air, then walk to Hotel de la Forclaz.
It’s that last stage that causes most concern. Are you planning that general stage or have you seen a work around to mitigate it a bit?

Thanks, a senior couple from Canada that hike about 1500 km annually

Reply
Mags Nixon 5th August 2019 - 12:16 pm

Hi, thanks for getting in touch. We are planning to stay Bonatti, Belvedere (Champex) then Hotel Orse in Trient so our stages are pretty much the standard ones in the guide book. I’m slightly worried that I should have organised shorter stages, like you, to benefit the kids :0

We are hiking from this Sunday (11 Aug) so would be happy to report back to you on making the end stages shorter. When are you planning to do the trek?

The only option I can see to make the stage from Champex to Col de Forclaz shorter is to take the bus from Champex as far as possible down the route, I’m not sure at this stage whether this is only as far as Champex d’en Haut. I will be checking with the tourist office. I will let you know if I find out more information!

Good luck, and thanks for reading our blog posts. Please do let us know how you get on on the tour! Best wishes. Mags

Reply
Yael 18th July 2019 - 3:24 pm

Hi,
I’m Yael. I’m 47 and a mom of 2 kids, age 12 and 7.
we live in Tel Aviv, and enjoy hiking.
Your blog is so INSPIRING!!!!
Thank you so much for posting all this ideas and info!

This summer, we would stay in Lyon,
and I’m interested to hike for 2-3 days with sleep over in huts in the alps or in some other mountain area not far from Lyon.
Like you, we also prefer self guided tour and not in an arranged group.
we can travel either in public transport or to rent a car.

Do you have any reccomendation for us?
I would appreciate any help from you 🙂

Reply
Mags Nixon 5th August 2019 - 12:24 pm

Hi Yael. Lyon is around 2 hours from Chamonix. I would very much recommend walking some of the Tour du Mont Blanc route as the scenery is stunning. In 2-3 days you can hike from Chamonix to Courmayeur or to make it more manageable Les Contamines to Courmayeur. Or spend three nights hiking from Courmayeur in Italy back to Chamonix in France. I don’t know many of the hiking routes closer to Lyon I’m afraid. Chamonix is a great town to base yourself for day hikes too with a spectacular 2.5-3.5 hour walk up to the Albert 1eme refuge at Le Tour which is right next to the Le Tour glacier. The refuge is new and is lovely to stay in. Otherwise it’s a lovely 5 hour round trip up and down.

Reply
Yael 7th August 2019 - 10:34 am

Thank you so much for your valuable recommendation!!!!!

Reply
Going Wild: 23 Best Hikes & Treks in Europe – Travel Outlandish 19th August 2019 - 2:58 am

[…] The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the world’s classic high altitude multi-day treks that circles Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe and crosses three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland. […]

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