The Tour du Mont Blanc is honestly one of the most incredible hike we’ve ever experienced. That’s saying something since we’ve done some really incredible hikes in Alaska, the Rockies, the Cascades, Glacier National Park, Yosemite, New Zealand, and Hawaii, just to name a few.
What makes this experience so unique and incredible in comparison to other hikes around the world is the combination of easy access to refuges, going in and out of towns and cities, and the stunning beauty of all the snowcapped mountains and glaciers.
When I first started planning the Tour du Mont Blanc, it was overwhelming to say the least and it was hard to find the right information to help me plan my itinerary, especially when it came to camping. In our blog, Planning a Tour du Mont Blanc, I’ve included everything you need to know about getting to Mont Blanc, how long it is, how many stages, safety, and so much more.
If you don’t know much about the Tour du Mont Blanc, it might help to read the Planning Guide first (blog coming soon) to orient yourself and then use this to help you plan.
But, if you are just looking for some inspiration, want to find out how you can hike this incredible trail in only 7 days, or want to hear our story of how epic the Tour du Mont Blanc was then please, read on. And for pure inspiration, you’ll want to check out Our 35 Favorite Photos From The TMB.
Hiking the TMB was certainly a life changing experience for me.
For starters, it was way more strenuous than I expected and like always, I tend to bite off more than I can chew. This meant that we ended up combining stages, which made it even more exhausting. That’s not to say I’d do it differently. I just want you to make sure you plan accordingly.
I’ve broken up my account of our hiking experience with tips and recommendations for those planning on trying to fast track this wonderful trek.
If I skipped something or left any stone unturned or question unanswered, please, ask us in the comments section below. I want to make sure you can have the best possible experience hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
I found it interesting that while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, so few people knew what a travel blog was. While I guess originally blogging was a means of journaling your experience along your travels, in the past few years it has turned into a highly detailed description for travel and thus I want you to know that this blog here that you’re reading is meant to help you have the best possible travel experience possible.
I’m not here to talk about my story, I’m using my story to help you have an epic Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Let’s get started!
Just a heads up, I will be using the abbreviation TMB on this blog occasionally. It’s kinda self explanatory but TMB stands for Tour du Mont Blanc.
Also, if you don’t have time to read this whole blog (or even if you just want to save this blog for later), you can save any one of the photos on this blog to your Pinterest boards. All you got to do is click the Pin it button in the corner of each image (if you’re on a mobile device, click on the photo first then the Pin it button will appear.)
Day 1 on the Tour du Mont Blanc: Le Brévent to Refuge de la Balme
- Total miles/kilometers hiked: 10 mi/6 km
- Total elevation gain: 800m/2600ft
- Total elevation loss: 1500m/4900ft
- Stages covered: Half of Stage 11, bypass Stage 1, partial Stage 2
Hiking Times + Distances
- Brévent to Refuge de Bellachat: 1 hour
- Refuge de Bellachat to Les Houches train station: 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Public Transport from Les Houches to Notre Dame de la Gorge
- Notre Dame de la Gorge to Refuge Nant Borrant: 40 minutes
- Refuge Nant Borrant to Refuge de la Balme: 50 minutes
Chamonix Mont Blanc
We chose to begin our TMB journey at the summit of Le Brévent.
Traditionally you would start and finish the TMB in Les Houches so that you get the most dramatic views of Mont Blanc for the grand finale, stage 11.
The weather forecast was predicting overcast with a chance of rain for the day we’d be finishing the TMB projected and the day we woke up to start the Tour, the weather was perfectly clear and too gorgeous to pass up. We decided to take the good weather when we could get it so we could guarantee amazing views on the iconic 11th stage.
In addition, we happened to be in Chamonix at the same time as the UTMB (the Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc race). The race follows the very same TMB route hikers follow so it can get crowded on the trail. We were beginning our trek two days before the big race started and we wanted to get out ahead of the runners if that makes sense.
After grabbing pastries and cafe in town, plus some snacks for the way, we walked north out of town center to the cable car.
The price to ride the cable car to Brévent one way was €25 adults and €20 kids under 15.
I was a bit reluctant to pay so much and contemplated just hiking up to Brévent but was so very happy that I spent the money as it is an extremely steep ascent and would have trashed our legs for the descent from Brévent to Les Houches that we were about to do.
Taking the cable car up provides you with amazing views and it’s super easy to find the gondola from the center of Chamonix. Just follow the signs.
Taking the cable car up is a two part ordeal. The first part is a gondola ride to Plan Praz, which is at 2000 meters. From here you get off the gondola and follow the signs with the picture of the cable car that in the winter, takes you to the black diamond runs in the resort. It’s very simple.
There is a cafe here if you want to grab a coffee while taking in the views or you can wait to get panoramic views from the smaller cafe at the summit of Le Brévent after the second cable car ride.
The cable car ride from Plan Praz to Brévent was interesting as it is a larger car that fits 30 + people standing in it and takes you all up together to Brévent at 2525 meters. It was exhilarating!
After you take in the views, which do tend to be clouded in from this high of altitude, it’s time to start the hike down to Les Houches. Remember, if you choose to do this the traditional way, this will be your final push of the tour and it is steep, so leave a little in the legs for this part.
Le Brévent to Refuge de Bellachat – Stage 11
The first section of trail was a rocky but a gradual decline. You’re above treeline here and get incredible views of not only Mont Blanc but also the mountain ranges far in the distance.
The views at Refuge de Bellachat are some of the best on the entire tour. If it fits into your itinerary, I highly recommend staying here. It was a little to early in our day to stop and eat here, but like all the refuges along the way, it did serve coffee, drinks and food. There are toilets here but only for paying customers.
Refuge de Bellachat to Les Houches – Stage 11
Just a bit after leaving the refuge the trail gets steep. Very steep.
There isn’t a lot of exposure so fear of heights isn’t a huge worry but the amount of single leg squats you feel like you are doing is hard. Our legs were shaking most of the way down, which is rare for us.
Hiking sticks would probably be a good idea if you have any past knee issues. Keep in mind, the trail remains steep pretty much the entire way down to Les Houches.
20 minutes after leaving the refuge, the trail winds into the forest and provides a nice respite from the intense sun rays. Eventually you arrive at a fence and follow along the outskirts of it until reaching the entrance to the Zoo, Merlet.
After Merlet, we followed the yellow TMB signs left, winding down the Zoo’s access road until eventually turning left on the TMB trail about 30 min down the road again.
According to the book, when you get to the zoo, there was a road to the right that put you on the TMB trail right away, however, we totally didn’t see it and walking the road for awhile was a nice break for our feet. There were also picnic tables on the road where we walked that provided a nice place to rest and eat.
The trail puts you out right at the train station and if this the end of your trek as a traditional Stage 11, it’s super easy to hop on the train back to Chamonix. If you choose to fastback as we did, you may want to hop on the train here to skip Stage 1.
Les Houches to Les Contamines – Skipping Stage 1
Since stage 1 of the TMB, which goes from Les Houches to Les Contamines, isn’t as gorgeous as the other stages, we decided to skip it, but mostly because we wanted to get ahead of the UTMB runners who would be starting their race the next night, which meant we needed to get to Les Contamines so we could enjoy beautiful stage 3 without crazy crowds.
I don’t necessarily recommend skipping stage 1 but we did because we weren’t going to be able to take the alternate/high route.
The traditional path of stage 1 involves a lot of road walking and didn’t seem worth it for us since doing Stage 1 would set us back a day.
Plus, there is a variant to Stage 1 that takes you up higher and closer to the glaciers but isn’t recommended early in the season or with inclement weather. There was a chance of thunderstorms that afternoon so we chose to take it easy and ride the train/bus to Contamines.
Train and Bus Passes
The Carte d’Hôte pass allows you to ride any bus or train between Servoz and Vallorcine.
We received one of these passes for free from staying at Camping Des Arroles. I’m pretty sure all of the campgrounds in Chamonix provide these, some hotels also offer them free of charge, or you can get one for 2 euros from the tourist office in Chamonix.
The train runs about every hour, click here for full schedule. We took the train west to Saint Gervais where we then hopped on Bus 84 to Les Contamines. This bus is not included in the Carte d’Hôte pass and tickets were €5.50 per person. It was a very nice bus ride in an air conditioned tour bus and the incredible views along the way made what little guilt I had for skipping a section of the TMB quickly disappear as I stared out the oversized windows at the rolling green French countryside.
The tourist office in Les Contamines has outlets to charge your phone and free WiFi which was nice.