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Planning a Tour of Mont Blanc hike

Tour of Mont Blanc

When planning a hike of the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB), which circles around the Mont Blanc massif, the choices immediately get overwhelming. Once you’re on the trail it becomes even more obvious that, while there may be an official TMB route, the variations are endless.

About the TMB

The Tour of Mont Blanc is about 110 miles (170 km), though that can vary quite a bit depending on shortcuts, side trips and choices about sections to skip, either due to weather, scheduling issues or a desire to shorten or lengthen the trip. This may be obvious, but the Alps are tall. Very tall. It’s not that they are so high compared to the monster mountain ranges of the world, as most of the TMB is under 9,000 feet (2,700 m). However, the topography is such that the route can gain and lose 3000-5000 feet (900-1500 m) in a day, day after day. Therefore, most hikers quit paying attention to the mileage and just want to know what the elevation gain and loss for the day is. A six mile (9.6 km) day with 5,000 feet (1500 m)  of elevation gain and loss can take twice as long as a 12 mile (19 km) gently undulating day.

One of the pleasures of the TMB is the unique nature of walking through three different countries, France, Italy and Switzerland, in one trip. “Bon jour” changes to “Buongiorno” in an instant as soon as you cross into Italy. Food choices vary with each region, though pizza reigns supreme in all of the larger towns.

To get oriented, see maps on the Chamonix.net website.

Woman with daypack

Inga’s daypack was 35 liters and contained everything she needed for the Tour of Mont Blanc.

What to Pack

We carried everything we needed for the hike in 35-liter backpacks. Steve’s pack weighed about 10 lbs (4.5 kg) and mine weighed 12 lbs (5.4 kg). These weights are  without water, but with some snacks (mostly energy bars). With water and additional snacks, including our lunch, our packs probably weighed 15 lbs (6.8 kg). This was a real treat since we normally carry 25-30 lbs (11-13 kg) with our full backpacking gear. A couple we met on the trail had a plan included a service that transported their luggage from lodging to lodging each day (except a couple of remote areas where they had to carry their own gear). Their day packs were extremely light. For more information, see Packing for a Hut to Hut Tour of Mont Blanc.

Stone building, Refuge Mottets, France

Refugio Mottets


The type of lodging desired represents a major decision point. The options are

  • Regufio/refuge (mountain hut) and hostel
  • Hotel/inn/auberge
  • Backpacking/camping in a tent

The choice is dictated by individual preference, budget and travel style. They are not mutually exclusive and many people mix and match. We chose to stay mostly in hotels and inns, along with two refugios that were located in remote areas where there were no other options. We enjoyed getting a taste of the refugio experience but we decided on the comfort of hotels/inns for the majority of the trip. In my 20s the refugios would have been wonderful but being of a more “mature” age, the shared dormitory environment was not as appealing for the whole trip. We normally would have backpacked but were put off by hearing that it is not always easy to camp legally and, having never been to the area, were unsure of how well it would be accepted to camp. Many backpackers decamped to refuges and hostels when the weather turned bad, unwilling to brave continuous rain for multiple days.

Refuges require a sleeping bag liner (or sleep sack). We found a lightweight (4 oz/115 grams) silk liner on Amazon that worked well (Marycrafts 100 % mulberry silk sleeping bag liner).

Bunk beds with red checkered bedpreads

Bunk beds at Refuge Mottets

We had “half-board” included in our price of lodging, which included breakfast buffet and dinner. Lunches can be ordered from most lodging establishments, including refugios, for around US$ 13 (€ 12). We ordered sack lunches a couple of times (one lunch was usually adequate for the two of us with some of our other snacks), ate in cafes a couple of times and assembled lunches from supermarket fare several times. For more information, see Food Choices on the Tour of Mont Blanc.

Blue bandana topped with picnic lunch of baguette, sausages, crackers, cheese and avocado.

Typical picnic lunch with baguette, slim sausages, crackers, cheese and avocado.

When To Go

Deciding when to go is another big decision. The peak season is July and August. June is possible but the trail may be snowbound in big snow years. September is a strong choice but it is important to be aware that hotels, refugios, buses, chair lifts and other services start closing down mid-September. By September 10 we were constantly encountering “just closed yesterday” scenarios.

Man and woman standing on trail with Mont Blanc in background

Mont Blanc from the TMB near Courmayeur, Italy

Sample Itineraries

Our itinerary, presented below, seemed to be fairly standard. We went counter-clockwise, which is the traditional direction, but it’s possible to do it in reverse. It includes 10 days of hiking, a rest day in the middle in Courmayeur and two days allocated to arrival and departures. One couple we hiked with didn’t have a rest day so we had to say goodbye in Courmayeur. We heard of others doing it in seven days, which would be fairly reasonable.  There are all kinds of speed records, including 2- and 4-day circuits for the speedy types and adventure racers.

A 7-day hike, which eliminates part of the trail around Chamonix, still provides the essence of the most dramatic parts of the trail without sacrificing too much. The audacious tunnel that extends under the massive mountain from Chamonix to Courmayeur allows even shorter treks on half of the TMB in either direction.  Shorter itineraries are offered below.

Sample 10-day, 110-mile (170-km) counter-clockwise hike (10 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure and an optional rest day, for a total of 13 days; mileage can vary depending on the variant routes available).

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival) [Our lodging in brackets]

Day 1: Chamonix [Hotel Vallee Blanche]  to Les Houches (6.6 miles) [Hotel du Bois]

Day 2: Les Houches to Les Contamines (7.8 miles) [Hotel Chemenaz]

Day 3: Contamines to Refuge Mottets (12.6 miles) [Refuge Mottets]

Day 4: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur (14.4 miles; add optional rest day in Courmayeur) [Hotel Crampon]

Day 5: Courmayeur to Refuge Bonatti (7.8 miles) [Refuge Bonatti]

Day 6: Refuge Bonatti to La Fouly (12.3 miles) [Hotel Edelweiss]

Day 7: La Fouly to Champex-Lac (8.7 miles) [Hotel du Glacier]

Day 8: Champex-Lac to Trient (10.7 miles) [Auberge Grand Ourse]

Day 9: Trient to Argentiere (9 miles) [Hotel Couronne]

Day 10: Argentiere to Chamonix (6.9 miles) [Hotel Vallee Blanche]

Post-Hike: Transportation from Chamonix

Man and woman in winter jackets standing in the rain.

Julie and Bruce are bundled up against the cold. We had four days of rain in early September.

Sample 7-day trek (7 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure, for a total of 9 days)

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival)

Day 1: Les Houches to Contamines

Day 2: Contamines to Refuge Mottets

Day 3: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur

Day 4: Courmayeur to Refuge Elena

Day 6: Refuge Elena to La Champex-Lac

Day 7: Champex-Lac to Trient

Post-Hike: Train/bus to Chamonix and beyond

High alpine lake, Lac Blanc, with snowy mountains in the background

Lac Blanc is one of the most photographed spots on the TMB.

Sample 3-day counter-clockwise hike (3 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure, for a total of 5 days). This could be stretched to 6 days of hiking for a less rigorous hike. This segment could potentially have more elevation gain and loss than the following clock-wise 3-day itinerary.

Pre-Hike: Chamonix (arrival)

Day 1: Les Houches to Contamines

Day 2: Contamines to Refuge Mottets

Day 3: Refuge Mottets to Courmayeur

Post-hike: Courmayeur to Chamonix via bus through the tunnel

Three TMB signs; white and red strips, yellow diamond and paint on rock

Signage is good, but varies between white and red lines, yellow blotches of paint, a yellow diamond with or without “TMB” or other waypoints.

Sample 4-day clockwise hike (3 days of hiking, with two extra days for arrival and departure for a total of 5 days).

This can be stretched to 6 days of hiking for a less rigorous hike. This segment could potentially have less elevation gain and loss than the above 3-day counterclockwise itinerary for hikers looking for a less bone-jarring trek.

Pre-Hike: Bus from Chamonix to Le Tour

Day 1: Le Tour to Trient (or Col de la Forclaz refuge)

Day 2: Trient (or Col de la Forclaz refuge) to Champex Lac

Day 3: Champex Lac to Refuge Elena

Day 4: Refuge Elena to Courmayeur

Post-Hike: Train/bus from Courmayeur o Chamonix via tunnel

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a stunning hike that meanders through three countries and has many variations.

Other articles on the Tour of Mont Blanc by Inga Aksamit


Tour Companies (there are many)

  • Mont Blanc Treks, can assist with making lodging reservations for self-guided tours, as well as arranging guided tours. This is the only service I have personal experience with and can highly recommend it. We chose the self-guided tour and carried all of our own gear. The service they provided for us was making reservations for lodging each night and providing detailed route cards, but they offer much more.
  • Mac’s Adventure, offers a range of itineraries. A friend is using this service, choosing the “Relaxed Tour du Mont Blanc,” with a couple of extra days built into the itinerary. He chose to have his luggage transported so only day-packs will be needed.

Guidebooks and Maps


Facebook Group

All photos by Inga Aksamit, unless otherwise credited.

Disclaimer:  I may earn a small commission for links to any products from Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. I get a few cents for products purchased through this link. It is not a big moneymaker but I want to be transparent.

Group of people dining in rustic cabin.

Though we were hiking independently we met fun people along the way. This is a group dinner at Refuge Mottets.


12 thoughts on “Planning a Tour of Mont Blanc hike”

  1. Tanya Radowicz Boillot February 7, 2017

    Have been dreaming of this trip, thank you for summarizing so much great info in English! Loved your top ten runs at Squaw article too, that is what got me here. Merci bien!

  2. Inga February 8, 2017

    Hi Tanya,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the articles. Check back (or subscribe) as I’ll be posting several more articles on the TMB in more depth.

  3. Julie Hogg July 5, 2017

    Hi Inga,

    Thanks for providing some good info on this hike:) My husband and I will be taking this trip next month and like you, we have booked mostly hotels where available. I’m following the route described by Kev Reynolds’ guide but I was wondering about your last hiking day from Argentiere to Chamonix. In the guidebook, that section is spread over two days. Did you hike both days as he described in one day or did you take a different route? I’m wondering because there are limited options for lodging in between.

    Thank you!

    1. Inga July 5, 2017

      Hi Julie, we did that section in one day. We had lunch at Lac Blanc. After lunch was the only time we missed the trail and ended up at the Index ski lift. It was mid Sept and none of the lifts were open. It was a long day but doable.

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  5. PAM LOUGHMAN September 3, 2018

    Hello Inga!
    I have enjoyed reading your books on the JMT and just completed the trail last month. Now our goal is the TMB for summer 2019. I noticed your itinerary included Trient to Angentiere then Chamonix. We were wondering why you went to Angentiere and not Flegere. The map appears to show only a road from Angentiere to Chamonix.Is there a trail and if so how did you get to Chamonix from Argentiere?

    1. Inga September 5, 2018

      We chose a combination of inns and refugios. We stayed in an inn in Argentiere rather than the Le Flegere refugio–just personal preference. We hiked from Trient over the mountain to Col de Balme to Argentiere. From Argentiere there is a clearly marked trail that starts on the main street in town that leads up to Lac Blanc, though once you get near the lake there are several intersecting trails. We were glad that we were in inns for the last part as we had four days of unrelenting rain and on the day to Argentiere we even had snow. I was practically hypothermic by the time we reached Argentiere. From Lac Blanc, we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking to the Index ski lift (not running) and had a steep hike down a rough road. The cable car wasn’t running from near Flegere either so we had a long walk down a trail that ended in the middle of Chamonix. We had planned to hike all the way to Planpraz, where we started, but it was getting late in the day and we weren’t going to make that lift either. If you’re just looking at the maps in the Cicerone guide you might need a real topo map to see the other trails. We used these: https://amzn.to/2Q5KfXF and https://amzn.to/2PF14Yd.

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