planning a self guided tour du Mont Blanc trek

The 105 mile Tour du Mont Blanc hike is one of the most renowned, prestigious, and extraordinary backpacking trips in the world. While challenging, this trek doesn’t require any special expertise and hiring a guide isn’t necessary. This guide will help you plan your very own, self guided Tour du Mont Blanc trek and experience one of the greatest hikes on earth.

While the Tour du Mont Blanc is considered one of the greatest walks in the world, a surprisingly large number of people have never heard of this famous hike that takes you around the base of one of the Alp’s largest mountains, Mont Blanc.

Col de Balme camping and refuge, Tour du mont blanc
The Tour’s namesake…grand, massive, and magical

Mont Blanc stands with commanding presence at a whopping 15,771 feet and getting to stare at its beauty from the top of Le Brévent, in the energetic town of Courmayeur, or on the exhilarating cable car of the Aiguille du Midi will forever leave you awe inspired.

Taking on the Tour Du Mont Blanc and seeing the regal giant from all sides can be a life changing experience and while it is a realistic adventure for all skill levels, if you are thinking of tackling this monumental journey, please read though this thoroughly to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and to set yourself up for optimal success.

There is so much I wish I had known before I started hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc. While we still had a wonderful journey, it would have been even more enjoyable if I had known more before hand.

That’s not to say I didn’t plan it. I spent dozens of hours researching the Tour du Mont Blanc in hopes of planning the perfect trip but the problem was, the information simply wasn’t out there.

I hope this planning guide will give you ample beta so you can plan the perfect Tour du Mont Blanc adventure.

What Is The Tour Du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 168 km (104 mile) trail that goes around Mont Blanc Massif and has a total height gain and loss of 32,000 feet (10,000m) depending on the variants you choose…that’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest (without the high altitude of course).

Mont Blanc doesn’t stand alone. It’s flanked by the Grandes Jorasses, Aiguille Noire, Aiguille du Midi, the Verte and Drus, Mont Maudit and Mont Dolent. Names like this may mean nothing while in the planning stage (I get it, that was totally me when I was planning too), but these jagged, glacier covered peaks will become seared in your memory for a lifetime after seeing it firsthand.

The rad part is that this conglomerate of peaks and glaciers are touched by 3 countries, France, Italy, and Switzerland, which means in order to walk the circumference of Mont Blanc you get to experience all 3 countries, each with its own culture, vibe, and food specialties.

What makes this trek so unique compared to some of the other greatest treks in the world is that you have the option to stay at accommodation like refuges, chalets, and hotels along the way instead of camping, though camping is certainly still an option.

When you hike the Tour du Mont Blanc you aren’t summiting any of these peaks. In fact, you rarely even walk along the base of peaks. Usually you walk along a hillside across the valley so that you can look at the Mont Blanc Massif from a better vantage point.

Stage 11 of the Tour du Mont Blanc from Le Brevent to Les Houches
No doubt one of the greatest views of the entire Tour Du Mont Blanc lies in the glorious section of Stage 11

On the Tour du Mont Blanc, your goal is to find the lowest point between peaks, known as the “col”, and walk the valleys between the cols which surround this massive mountain range. Every time you go over one of these cols, you’ve gone over a “pass” and there are 10 or 11 passes along the way depending upon the variant you take.

Stage 2 variant on Tour du Mont Blanc
From the summit of Col de Fours you can see the beautiful Aiguillette des Glaciers. It’s incredible place on the Tour du Mont Blanc to stop and take it all in

You never have to worry about getting lost, the trail is very well marked.

Besides making the hike easier than what a mountaineer would take on, you get incredible views of Mont Blanc from many different vantage points along the way because you are looking at the mountain from a distance.

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc

I found this map to be most helpful in the preliminary stages of planning our Tour du Mont Blanc trek.

I suggest pinning this map to one of your Pinterest boards or screenshotting it for easy access.

Planning your self guided TMB trek is going to be very confusing until you’ve got a good understanding of this map.

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc
A map of the overall Tour du Mont Blanc hiking route Map credit via Chamonix.net

Reasons To Hike The Tour Du Mont Blanc

I’ve done a lot of hikes and traveled to many countries, hiking the TMB is at the top of my list for 3 reasons:

  1. Glaciers: We’ve seen a lot of glaciers through our travels but never so many in such a short period of time. If glaciers make you happy, you have to do the TMB.
  2. Food: The food in Europe is so delicious, but to me, the French do food best. I’m not talking about overpriced Parisian food. I mean the down to earth real food you can find in every French town. Baguettes, butter, croissants, chocolate cakes, berries, coffee, and most of all the incredibly fresh and gorgeous looking produce. You haven’t had lettuce until you’ve had it in France! The refugees in Italy were insanely good good too.
  3. Solitude: Sure we passed people on the trail but for the most part, we had a ton of solitude. I can’t remember the last time my mind felt so at peace. While moments of guilt may have crept in for leaving leaving my little ones at home for this adventure, the wellness I gained from this experience can’t be measured and I am so much healthier and whole for taking on this journey of a lifetime.

If that isn’t enough to inspire you, check out these 35 insane pics that Gabi captured along the way.

Why You Should Go With Self Guided

Up until I was actually on the trail, I didn’t realize so many people choose to go with a guide on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Honestly, a guide is really unnecessary and this hike is anything but a rugged adventure. Challenging? Yes. But rugged? No. There is almost no risk of getting lost, you’re practically staying in a hotel every night, and you pass through civilization daily.

Stage 2 variant on Tour du Mont Blanc
Catching up with other hikers and chatting on our descent into Ville des Glaciers

I’m guessing you already know the benefits of a self guided trek if you’ve found this blog, but to sum up, by trekking the TMB self guided you’ll save money, you’ll have control over your agenda, and you don’t have to socialize all the time. Even if you are a social butterfly, the communities that you meet at each refuge should satiate your craving for meeting people.

The only reason not to go with a self guided tour would be if you’re the type who really doesn’t like planning and doesn’t mind letting someone have full control of the schedule.

Where Does the Tour du Mont Blanc Start & End?

Traditionally, the Tour du Mont Blanc starts in the Chamonix Valley in Les Houches, which is a short bus ride from Chamonix. Many hikers also choose to start in Courmayeur, Italy especially if it is easier to get a flight into Milan.

Technically, the Tour du Mont Blanc is circular so you really can start it anywhere.

The reason most start in Les Houches and hike it in a counter clockwise direction is that it leaves the most dramatic views of Mont Blanc and the slopes of the Aiguilles Rouges chain for the end.

Most people choose to start the Tour du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France or Courmayeur, Italy because these towns are big enough to get supplies in, they are easy to find transportation to and from, and are lively ski towns that are destinations in themselves.

How to Get to The Tour du Mont Blanc

The closest international airports are Geneva, Switzerland or Milan, Italy and getting a bus to Chamonix or Courmayeur is very easy. As I’ve mentioned, depending on where you’re flying from, Milan may be a cheaper and/or easier flight though I will say that I liked Chamonix far more Courmayeur.

We always use Skyscanner to find cheap flights. Use the search box below to find cheap flights from your chosen location.

Buses and Trains to Chamonix

Since we were starting in Chamonix, we flew into Geneva and then took a bus to Chamonix. We used both AlpyBus, Easy Bus, and Swiss Tours for different legs of our bus ride.

Most important about this part is to try and avoid flying in late at night. There are very few bus services that run late at night which means you have opt for the train (which is pain) or pay for a private transfer.

Initially we booked with AlpyBus because they were one of the few options that had option at 11pm but unfortunately our flight got delayed to get to Geneva and by the time we arrived, we had missed our booked shuttle ride and there were no other shuttles running that night that they could re-book us on.

We ended up rebooking a new ride with EasyBus since their first bus of the day was at 6am whereas as AlpyBus wasn’t until 10am or so and on the way back we rode with Swiss Tours.

Bus Services to Chamonix

Prices are per person

  • AlpyBus: 25 Euros one way, 50 Euro round-trip; I can’t vouch for AlpyBus since I never actually got a chance to ride their however their booking process was really easy and the benefit of their service is that they’ll drop you off at your specific accommodation. They also have private transfers and they can take you to Courmayeur or Champex if you’re starting somewhere else.
  • EasyBus: 17 Euros one way, 34 Euro round-trip; A cheap option with early morning service. Smooth and easy process even though we booked less than 24 hours in advance.
  • SwissTours: 10-15 Euros one way (depending on the day); SwissTours was simple and easy and even though it’s a bus not a shuttle, they were upscale busses with restrooms and wifi. Slightly longer bus ride since they stop in the city of Geneva. Amazing value for the price.
  • Mountain Drop-offs: Did not ride this one personally but is known as one of the highest rated ride services to Chamonix. Suitable for late arrivals since they offer private shuttles.

Riding a train can be a really cheap option however the train route to Geneva requires a lot of transfers which can be real drag especially when your’e super excited to get on the trail.

Overall, try to avoid arriving in Geneva Airport late at night and if you do, it’s best to save yourself the headache and pay for a private transfer.

If you are traveling within Europe, local train travel to Chamonix is very easy option and often doesn’t require many transfers

Staying in Chamonix

Most hikers opt to stay in their starting town for a few days before or after their TMB trek purely for the sake of enjoying the beautiful towns.

I absolutely loved staying a few days in Chamonix. If you are considering spending a few days here before or after (or both like us) then check out our complete guide to Chamonix (coming soon).

We loved staying at La Folie Douce hotel and highly recommend it for all trekkers.

Related: Why We Love La Folie Douce Hotel in Chamonix

If you you’ve brought a tent and are planning on tent camping on the TMB, you’ll want to stay at Camping Les Arolles in town.

The town of Chamonix is super pedestrian friendly no matter where you stay and there’s even a free bus system to get around town if necessary.

Getting to Les Houches

Assuming that you’re tackling the TMB the traditional anti-clockwise direction, you’re starting point is in the town of Les Houches which you actually pass right through when you drive into Chamonix from Geneva.

When you’re ready to begin you’re trek, you’re going to want to get on the bus that departs every 30 minutes from Chamonix Sud, the main bus station in Chamonix that is hard to miss.

Note that this isn’t the only way to start the TMB and if there are many alternate starting options.

Public Transport for stage 1 of Tour du Mont Blanc
Train stop in Les Houches

For example, we started our tour by riding the Le Brevent cable car right from the town of Chamonix. We did this because of unfavorable weather conditions to unfavorable weather predictions and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on the amazing views of stage 11.

Because weather is so unpredictable in the Alps, even in the summer, I highly encourage you to have a plan and then a few back up plans.

Read How We Fast Packed the TMB to get you ideas on how you can deviate from the traditional route in case the weather isn’t ideal for you.

Refuges vs Camping

There are two main ways to go about accommodation on the Tour. The most popular option is to stay at hotels and refuges as mentioned earlier.

Refuges are what make the TMB a really unique backpacking experience. Not only does it mean you can carry a very light pack, but you also get to trek through one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges whilst eating like a king every evening from a remote and cozy mountain hut.

Refuge food is really ridiculously food and there is nowhere else in the world where you can eat so luxuriously while backpacking.

At the same time, refuges are very expensive ranging from 50-60 Euros per person per night (half board price with dinner and breakfast included) so we personally opted for camping (with 2 nights at a refuge).

I loved camping and don’t regret our decision to camp since we got to sleep in the most stunning spots but it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly. By camping you will have to carry at least 20lb packs as opposed to when staying refuges, you can carry as little as 8lb packs.

If you’re considering camping, read this blog for all the details on Camping the TMB.

Staying at Refuges

Staying at a European mountain refuge is really a one of a kind experience. It’s one part shelter and ease of travel, one part incredible culinary delights, and one part a community experience of people who are all here for the same reason, to hike the alps.

Col de Balme camping and refuge, Tour du mont blanc
Refuge on Col de Balme at sunrise

Now there are a few things you should know about staying at refuges.

Refuge Basics

A refuge is a mountain hut and is basically run like a bed and breakfast. Some are privately owned and some are owned by the county/city (Elisabetta for example). Either way, every refuge is dedicated to providing you with the utmost comfort on your adventure. That’s not to say that all refuges are on par with one another. As a matter of fact, it’s important to consider which refuges you’re going to stay at because not all of them deliver a 5 star Alps experience (Chalet Refuge de la Balme for example).

Chalet Refuge de la Balme on the Tour du Mont Blanc stage 2