Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) Complete Guide
Everything you need to know to determine if this epic multi-day hike is for you
(and how to make it happen!)
2019 TRAIL UPDATES:
Are you hiking the TMB this year and want to know the latest trail conditions?
Here’s how you can stay up-to-date:
What is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
Tour du Mont Blanc (known on the trail as TMB) is the most famous multi-day alps hiking journey in Europe. Mont Blanc, or “White Mountain”, is the highest mountain in the European Alps at an imposing 4,810 metres (15,781 feet). The tour follows well maintained trails through France, Italy and Switzerland as it leads hikers around the Mont Blanc Massif.
With each side offering contrasting landscapes of unparalleled beauty and host countries welcoming hikers from around the world with their alpine hospitality, it is not surprising that the Tour du Mont Blanc is the most popular hut to hut hiking trail in Europe. Our gallery has a sample of what is on offer.
The Tour du Mont Blanc has a well marked main trail that most hikers follow to complete the journey. The main trail distance is 163km (101mi), with 9 mountain passes and a total elevation change of 19,700 meters (64,600 feet).
This is not the only option though, with 13 route variations allowing hikers to choose extra trail highlights, alternative accommodation or a shorter path if pressed for time.
Already Know the Tour Du Mont Blanc is for you?
Is there only one Tour du Mont Blanc?
Yes! Unlike the Walker’s Haute Route that shares it’s name with events and adventures in other locations, there is only one Tour du Mont Blanc. Over time, people have identified different ways to complete a lap of the Mont Blanc Massif. These include;
Hiking: By far the most popular method for completing the Tour du Mont Blanc given its accessibility to the broadest base of adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers typically take between 7 and 10 days to complete the journey.
Trail Running: Over the years, completing the tour in a multi-day running journey has increased in popularity. While trail runners can complete the tour at anytime throughout the summer, the premier event is the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) held at the end of August. Winners complete the trail in under 24 hours - averaging 7km/hr (4 mi/hr) - and while about 2,500 trail runners cross the start line, the challenging route means only a little over half typically reach the finish line!
Mountain Biking: One hard-core method gaining more hype is mountain biking around Mont Blanc, using the same trails as hikers and runners. While the steep gradient of some climbs and rocky sections require riders to push or carry their bikes at times, hikers and runners can prevent mountain bikers from having clear downhill runs. If this type of Tour du Mont Blanc is for you, mountain bike rental stores in Chamonix will rent you everything you need to complete the journey (such as Intersport).
Ski Touring: Adventurers can complete a ski tour around Mont Blanc in the winter and spring months (December through May depending on the season). While there are numerous route options possible, the hiking trail is not usually followed for most of the tour, in favour of selecting peaks/passes over 3,000m (9,850 feet) that offer a better back-country skiing experience and ground transport to skip less desirable sections.
While there are numerous options to accomplish a Tour du Mont Blanc, you can be rest assured that no matter how you do it, completing this epic Alps journey is an achievement and adventure that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIKE THE Tour Du Mont Blanc?
The time to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc depends on 2 key factors: A) Your Hiker Style, and B) Your Route Selection.
First, I’ve determined 4 distinct hiking styles that influence the speed and endurance of a hiker, and therefore the ultimate time to complete the journey;
Elite: For those that are fastpacking or trail running sections, the Tour du Mont Blanc could be completed in 4-6 days. 4 days requires approximately a marathon in distance to be completed each day and therefore trail running on flat and downhill sections is required to complete in this time. The 6 day itinerary requires an average daily distance of just under 30km (19mi), which could be completed hiking at a fast pace in ~9 hours per day. Both itineraries require a considerable daily elevation change to be achieved; the 6-day averages 3,200m (10,500ft) and 4 day just under 5,000m (16,400ft).
Speedy: For those that are fit, experienced hikers who are always catching and passing others on the trail, the Tour du Mont Blanc can be completed in 7-8 days. It requires hikers to have strong endurance, keeping a fast pace up throughout the day and handle hiking over 20km (12.5mi) each day. While the daily elevation change averages between 2,500 and 2,800m (8,200 - 9,200 feet), hikers will still need to handle some days over 3,200m (10,500ft).
Steady: For those hikers that enjoy the balance of a challenging day on the trail without feeling rushed, completing the Tour du Mont Blanc in 9-10 days is suitable. With an average daily elevation change of up to 2,200m (7,200ft), these hikers still have the firepower to climb over mountains, but are happy to spend most of their time in cruise control as they complete a respectable daily average of 16 - 18km (10 - 11mi).
Wanderer: For those hikers that want to regularly stop, smell the wild flowers and take pictures of each and every stunning landscape they come across. With the biggest day of elevation change registering at over 2,200m (7,200ft), Wanderers will still have the fitness to turn in a solid days work on the trail when required…unless they decide to take one for the team by catching a gondola or bus to their end destination and making sure there are enough refreshments on ice for the arrival of their fellow TMB hikers!
If you want to more details, read my detailed blog post on how long it takes to hike the Tour Du Mont Blanc here.
What are the different Route Options?
The total distance of the Tour du Mont Blanc depends on which highlights, accommodation options or shortcuts a hiker chooses, with 13 variations available. While the main route is measured at 163km (101mi), choosing variations can lead to the longest TMB route being 174kms (~108 mi), whereas the shortest hiking tour could be 148km (~ 92mi). The 13 variations to the main route can therefore increase or decrease a hikers overall plan by 1-2 days.
Please note that the 163km (101mi) stated above for the main route distance has been determined using detailed GPS tracking and trail measurement software. This is lower than most other distance measurements for the trail you’ve probably read. This is due to different methods and routes used. The two most common reference points are the guide books (168km | 104mi), that disclose their distance as an estimate only, and UTMB race (170km | 106mi), that has sections on the road away from the main TMB trail.
The best way to provide details on the 13 different route options available, is to first focus on the main Tour du Mont Blanc route as a baseline, then highlight each of the variant options, describing why you would choose or need to include them in your hiking itinerary.
Main Tour Du Mont BLanc Route
The main route is the current path that official Tour du Mont Blanc trail signs direct hikers to take. This means that it is also the primary route outlined in guidebooks and many blogs from previous Tour du Mont Blanc hikers. The below map highlights this route, with an attached 4-day itinerary designed for elite fastpackers/trail runners that can handle approximately a marathon each day with total elevation changes (accents + descents) of up 5,000m (16,400ft). Don’t worry if this isn’t for you, most complete the trail between 8 and 11 days.
SPEEDY 4 DAY SUMMARY
All measurements have been rounded
DAY 1 - Tour du Mont Blanc
Start Location: Les Houches Station | Finish Location: Refuge des Mottets
Distance: 43km (26.5mi) | Total Elevation Change: 4,600m (15,100ft)
Summary: Starting at Les Houches train station, hikers follow the road up through town before joining the trail and ascending through the trees to the first pass at Col de Voza. The trail leads down past Refuge of Fioux and Bionnassay before coming leaving the trees for farmland to follow the valley up to Les Contamines-Montjoie. Continuing through town, hikers follow the Le Bonnant stream to Notre Dame de la Gorge where the road ends and the gradient starts to increase to Refuge de la Balme, where huge omelettes are being served. The trail continues above the treeline and other than a short section crossing an alpine plateau, it climbs steeply up to Col du Bonhomme then Col de la Croix not long after. After enjoying the highest point of the day, hikers descend through alpine meadows and farmland to Les Chapieux, the most southerly point on the TMB. After a steady climb up the Vallée des Glaciers, hikers will arrived at Refuge des Mottets to enjoy their hospitality and their first night.
DAY 2 - Tour du Mont Blanc
Start Location: Refuge des Mottets | Finish Location: Chalet Val Ferret
Distance: 40km (25mi) | Total Elevation Change: 4,750m (15,600ft)
Summary: Any extra layers are quickly stripped off as the trail immediately begins to climb all the way to Col de la Seigne which marks the border between France and Italy. Switching your Bonjour for Buongiorno, descend into the valley past Refugio Elisabetta to Lac Combal where the trail leads up to a balcony trail with stunning landscape views of the South East facing side of the Mont Blanc Massif and valley below. Crossing through the ski area, the trail passes Refugio Maison Vieille and Refugio le Randonneur before descending steeply to Courmayeur. After picking up any necessary supplies, follow the road out of town before joining the trail and climbing steeply to Rifugio Bertone. Don’t take the path to Col Sapin, instead continue on an easier undulating trail past Rifugio Bonatti, before enjoy a descent to Chalet Val Ferret, located at the end of the road and where you’ll be spending the night.
DAY 3 - Tour Du Mont Blanc
Start Location: Chalet Val Ferret | Finish Location: Col de la Forclaz
Distance: 42km (26mi) | Total Elevation Change: 4,400m (14,450ft)
Summary: Follow the trail up the valley and past Rifugio Elena before the gradient increases on the way to Grand Col Ferret, which marks the border between Italy and Switzerland. Changing your Euro for Swiss Francs, enjoy a long section of mostly descent as far as Issert, where a modest climb is required to reach Champex-Lac, a stunning alpine lake. Dip your toes in or whole body if you can brave the cold and rub shoulders with hikers on the Walker’s Haute Route which share this location on their way to Zermatt. Continue out of town to Plan de l'Au where the climb up to Alp Bovine begins. Stop at this daytime restaurant for refreshments, a piece of fruit pie and views of Martigny below, before going through the gate, which marks the high point on this section of trail, and descending on shaded trail to Col de la Forclez for the night.
DAY 4 - Tour du Mont Blanc
Start Location: Col de la Forclaz | Finish Location: Les Houches Station
Distance: 38km (23.5mi) | Total Elevation Change: 5,950m (19,500ft)
Summary: The final day starts with an easy descent to Le Peuty before hikers need to grind up the switchbacks to Col de Balme, marking the border between Switzerland and France. Mont Blanc reappears here and will remain in view for the rest of your hike. Descend partway down the ski field before climbing up to Aiguillette des Posettes which is a popular photo spot to capture a landscape shot of the Mont Blanc massif. Loose nearly all the height you’ve gained today on the decent down to Tré-Le-Champ before ascending on the trail up to Aiguillette d'Argentiére where you’ll need to climb up metal ladders to join the Grand Balcon Sud trail. Follow this trail past Refuge la Flégére to Plan Praz where the gradient increases for the climb up to Col du Brévent then Le Brévent, which marks the highest point today and last ascending section of trail. Brace your knees for the steep decent which will take you past Refuge de Bellachat, Le Christ Roi Statue and to the valley below where Les Houches and the finsh line awaits!
Alternative Routes on the Tour Du Mont Blanc
There are 13 main trail variations available to those hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. The following map shows where they are located around the Mont Blanc massif, using the main route (in blue) described above as the baseline. The blue dots represent the subsections the trail has been divided into. The colours are the alternative routes available. There are many stretches of the trail which do not have accommodation for more than 7kms (4.5mi) and in some sections, up to 13km (8mi). For this reason, including certain variations may be possible without needing to add extra days to your overall itinerary.
The 13 Alternative ROutes on the map above
Anti-clockwise from Les Houches | All measurements are rounded
Col de Tricot (Tomato Red)
Variation: From Col de Voza, keep climbing up towards Mont Blanc instead of starting your descent to Les Contamines-Montjoie
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight. Cross a swing bridge over the run-off from Glacier de Bionnassay and reach a much higher pass with an inspiring landscape view showcasing the west facing side of the Mont Blanc massif.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = + 800m (2,600ft)
Col Des Fours (pikachu Yellow)
Variation: From Col de la Croix, take the north east trail and continue climbing instead of going down to Refuge de la Croix and Les Chapieux.
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight and shortcut. By keeping the height and continuing to climb, you’ll reach the higher pass where views of the southerly facing side of the Mont Blanc massif are not restricted like at Col de la Croix where the main trail then starts to descend.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = - 4km (2.5mi) | Total Elevation Change = - 200m (650ft)
Valley to Courmayeur (Basil Green)
Variation: At the end of Lac Combal, continue on the road instead of taking the trail up to the balcony trail
Reason for taking this route: Shortcut and bad weather. The trail following the valley descends to Courmayeur and is much easier than the climb onto the balcony trail above. It does miss out on some stunning views of the NE side of Mont Blanc and the Val Veni valley below
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = Immaterial | Total Elevation Change = - 850m (2,800ft)
Col Sapin (aperol spritzes Orange)
Variation: Just after Rifugio Bertone, take the trail that climbs up to Col Sapin rather than the main route that undulates toward Rifugio Bonatti
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight with stunning views of south east facing side of the Mont Blanc range. This section was previously part of the main trail, however, it was changed to the lower route over 10 years ago which is much less demanding but misses out on one of the best landscape views on the tour!
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 3km (2mi) | Total Elevation Change = + 1,100m (3,600ft)
La Vachey (Smurf Blue)
Variation: From Alp Arminaz, descend to the valley instead of keeping the height to Rifugio Bonatti
Reason for taking this route: Alternative accommodation option with private single and double rooms. It can also be an entry point back onto the trail for those who have caught the bus from Courmayeur to La Vachey.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = - 0.5km (0.3mi) | Total Elevation Change = - 150m (500ft)
Ferret (Eggplant Purple)
Variation: From La Peule, descend to the road in the valley below instead of continuing on the trail traversing the left side of the valley to Gite de La Lechere.
Reason for taking this route: Alternative accommodation options with a dorm and private double rooms with ensuite
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 0.5km (0.3mi) | Total Elevation Change = Immaterial
Fentre dÁrpette (Mustard Yellow)
Variation: From Champex-Lac, follow the trail to Arpette instead of Champex Dén Haut and Alp Bovine.
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight. The climb up to Fentre DÁrpette is one of the most relentless but hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of the Trient glacier as they cross the pass.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = Immaterial | Total Elevation Change = + 1,050m (3,450ft)
Trient (Deep Blue)
Variation: From Col de la Forclez, choose the trail to Trient rather than Le Peuty.
Reason for taking this route: Alternative accommodation options. Both Col de la Forclez and Le Peuty only has one option where Trient offers two others with about 200 additional beds in dorms, private rooms and apartments.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = + 100m (350ft)
REfuge Les Grands (Pink Panther)
Variation: From Col de la Forclez, continue on the trail to Chateau du Glacier rather than descending to Le Peuty
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight. A staircase carved into the rock cliff lifts you out of the treeline and provides views of the Trient glacier and an opportunity to stop at Refuge Les Grands (no food available) on the way to Col du Balme.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 3km (2mi) | Total Elevation Change = - 50m (150ft)
Le Tour (Gum tree Green)
Variation: From Col de Blame, descend down the ski field to Le Tour then Tré-Le-Champ
Reason for taking this route: Shorter and easier route to Tré-Le-Champ which some favour after completing the challenging climb from Le Peuty to Col de Balme. Taking this path will miss out on one of the best vantage points to see the North West face of the Mont Blanc range but there will be plenty of opportunities during the next two days to enjoy this side on the Grand Balcon Sud.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = - 3km (2mi) | Total Elevation Change = - 400m (1300ft)
ChamoniX Valley (Radioactive Green)
Variation: From Tré-Le-Champ, continue down the valley to Argentiere instead of climbing up onto the Grand Balcon Sud trail
Reason for taking this route: Shortest route to the finish line which can be completed in one day instead of two which is typically required to complete the final section of trail along the Grand Balcon Sud.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = - 4km (2.5mi) | Total Elevation Change = - 2,700m (8,850ft)
Grand Balcon Sud Start (Crimson Potato)
Variation: From Tré-Le-Champ, continue up the road towards Col des Montets instead of crossing the road and taking the trail to Aiguillette d'Argentiére.
Reason for taking this route: This route avoids the series of metal ladders just beyond Aiguillette d'Argentiére which some hikers managing vertigo would prefer to do.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 1.5km (1mi) | Total Elevation Change = Immaterial
Refuge LAC BLanc (GARFIELD Orange)
Variation: Leave the Balcon Sud trail towards Lac Blanc instead of continuing to Refuge la Flégére
Reason for taking this route: Trail highlight and alternative accommodation. An alpine lake and popular mountain hut encourages hikers to take a break and soak up one of the most stunning landscape views of the North West Facing sides of the Mont Blanc Massif.
Impact on Main Route Itinerary: Change in Distance = + 1km (0.6mi) | Total Elevation Change = + 350m (1,150ft)
**IMPORTANT update: Closure of Refuge La Flégére summer 2019**
Refuge La Flégère is a key location on the Tour du Mont Blanc for hikers to spend a night. The next closest accommodation options on the main trail are located 7km (4.5mi) and 10km (6mi) away. The closure of Refuge La Flégère for the 2019 summer season means that TMB hikers will need to find alternate accommodation for this night. Due to the Flégère cable car also being closed, hikers are unable to make what would have been an easy return journey to find alternative accommodation in the Chamonix valley for the night.
I’ve written a detail blog post highlighting 9 different options for hikers - either clockwise or anti-clockwise - to adjust their hiking plan based on fitness, availability of alternate huts/accommodation and desire to use the gondola to/from Chamonix. In addition, I’ve created and giving away for free the 5 mobile map sections that align to the different anti-clockwise scenarios.
READY TO START PLANNING YOUR OWN Tour Du MOnt Blanc Hike?
With all the different route options available, it can be difficult to confidently create the best self-guided hiking itinerary for your Tour du Mont Blanc! It can also be time consuming to find and book the right accommodation and services for your plan and preferences.
My name is Brendan and I experienced these challenges when preparing and hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. To help other hikers, I decided to do something about it. During the hiking season of 2017 and 2018, I collect over 2000 GPS trail coordinates as I studied the different routes available. I’ve now used them to create products for self-guided TMB hikers so they are in control of planning their epic trip with confidence and feel well supported on the trail. The result is self-guided itineraries, accompanying mobile maps and a portal that lets hikers review/book accommodation and services direct with local providers, offering lots of options to meet different budgets and needs. This is the second hike I’m supporting after my customers from the Walker’s Haute Route encouraged me to make the TMB planning process easier after the challenges they too experienced preparing for this trial.
SELF-GUIDED HIKING ITINERARIES
Self-guided hiking is the best way to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc because it allows for independence, and freedom to move at your own pace. It also saves you a lot of money, with guided hiking companies charging thousands for packages.
Most guidebooks provide a 10-day itinerary, however, this is not suitable for fit, experienced hikers or those with time constraints that would like to complete this trail in fewer days.
My approach to itinerary design follows the same principals developed and validated with customers from around the world for the Walker’s Haute Route, many of whom have previously hiked the TMB. Their support and testing has allowed me to create a range of itineraries for the TMB now available for instant download. If none of these meet your needs, I can create you a personalised itinerary just for you and your hiking party.
Tour du Mont Blanc MAPS
The main Tour du Mont Blanc route is well marked along the entire trail. Most variations are also marked, however, not always with the TMB labels so knowing the places of interest and locations you need to hike past is necessary. It therefore is possible to complete the hike without a map if you stick to the main trail and are well researched on the trail details of any variations. For those that want to be confident in their navigation and feel well supported on the trail, I’ve created the perfect map for you.
I’ve record over 2,000 GPS coordinates along the trail, including key point of interest such as food, water re-fill and bathroom locations. This information has been is used to create a mobile map aligned to each self-guided itinerary that can be used on any Apple and Android smartphone device. You’ll not just receive a generic Tour du Mont Blanc map, it will be one specific for your route so you’ll know where you are, how long you have left until lunch, the next water re-fill point or your accommodation…even when you’re offline!
Tour du Mont Blanc PLANNING PORTAL
This portal was created based on feedback from hikers who wanted help on understanding what their accommodation and service options were for their itinerary. It’s now become the central planning space for hikers that have committed to self-guiding the Tour du Mont Blanc with all the information you need before, during and after your hike on accommodation, transport, baggage transfer options, etc. It offers lots of options to cater to the preferences of first-time multi-day hikers, those doing the trip on a shoestring, those looking for a little more luxury and those going as part of a group. I’ve been thrilled with the response so far, especially from experienced multi-day hikers that have been through the time-consuming planning process for similar multi-day trips before!
The portal is tailored to each itinerary so start by selecting which one best meets your preferences to gain access now.