Hike / Trail / Mont Blanc / Chamonix

The Tour du Mont Blanc hike: everything you need to know

The Tour du Mont Blanc (literally meaning “around Mont Blanc”) is a world-renowned, 170 km hiking trail in the French Alps, passing through France, Switzerland and Italy.

Split into 11 stages, the tour starts and ends in Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley. However, unlike many other mountaineering challenges in the area, it requires little to no climbing skills.

In this post, we cover everything you need to know about the Tour du Mont Blanc, from its history to the best time to go, as well as details of the routes, where to stay and top tips.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about this mountain hike…

The history of the Tour du Mont Blanc

There is a long and rich history behind the Tour du Mont Blanc hike. First attempted by “Horace Benedict de Saussure” in 1767, the trail was walked by Roman soldiers and Celtic tribes who used the “Col Du Bonhomme” as a trade route, as well as shepherds who would move their herds between the valleys.

The Tour du Mont Blanc hike: key details

When to go

The Tour du Mont Blanc hike can only be completed in summer, from mid-June until the end of September. If you’re thinking of cutting certain stages, the public transport options (cable cars and shuttle buses) only run in July and August.

A man wearing a backpack stands in front of Lac Blanc and Mont Blanc in Chamonix
The view of Mont Blanc is perfectly mirrored by Lac Blanc, which you’ll discover at stage 10 of the tour – photo by Clémence Bergougnoux on Unsplash

What to pack

It goes without saying, you need to be incredibly stringent when it comes to packing – you will thank yourself later!

Pack as light as you possibly can and omit any luxuries you can live without. Before departing on your adventure, make sure you test all of your gear out thoroughly to see if it’s comfortable and can withstand the requirements.

If you struggle to narrow it down to the essentials, then you may want to look at organising luggage transfers to make things easier.

Here’s an idea of what to take with you on the Tour du Mont Blanc hike:

  • Backpack: The type of backpack you need depends on whether or not you plan on camping or staying in mountain refuges. If you’re camping, you’ll need a backpack with a 50-60 litre capacity, for the latter you’ll need a 25-30 litre backpack. Ensure your bag has chest and hip straps to spread the load, plus a waterproof cover. Kids will need to carry their own small backpacks with all the same features.
  • Clothing: Layers are absolutely essential. You need to be able to adjust and adapt according to the conditions on any given day. Include a variety of lightweight, synthetic layers which will dry quickly if you get wet plus a fleece, waterproof jacket/trousers, a couple of pairs of hiking shorts and approximately 3 technical t-shirts.
  • Socks: 4-5 pairs of socks
  • Boots: Do not scrimp on your boots, invest in a high-quality pair and wear them in thoroughly before you head off. We’d recommend heading to an outdoor sports store where professionals can advise you on the best model for your needs and the shape of your feet.
  • Comfy shoes: Some flip-flops or lightweight slippers for your overnight stays will be a welcome relief.
  • Trekking poles: Even if you’re used to hiking without them, poles will be essential for this trip. Take a look at these top-recommended makes and modes.
  • Hiking crampons: You may not think these are a necessity when hiking in summer, but high altitudes mean snow and ice patches even in July. Discover some top picks here.
  • Sleeping bag liner: For hygiene and comfort reasons, many refuges will require you to have a sleeping bag liner for your stay.
Two hiking backpacks in front of a mountain and blue skies
Make sure you’re well prepared with top quality gear – photo by Mohammad Alizade on Unsplash

The stages

The overall mountain hike is 170 km/105 miles long and split into several stages which pass through 7 valleys. There are a number of variants that you can choose to take, and you can choose from a guided or self-guided tour.

In this post, we’ve gone with a route that has 11 stages. Each stage averages approximately 13-20 km in length and takes around 7-9 hours a day.

With the route we outline in this post, most hikers will complete a stage per day, with more advanced trekkers doing it even more quickly. However, some may choose another route, going at a more leisurely pace which can take up to 14 days to complete the entire tour.

Do bear in mind though, that although the tour is open to all, it is a challenging expedition.

There are a number of access points including Les Contamines (France), Courmayeur (Italy) or Champex-Lac (Switzerland). So if you want, you can choose to hike sections of the route if you don’t have the time to complete it in full.

Most people choose to navigate the trail anti-clockwise. This is so you can enjoy maximum views of Mont Blanc along the way. But, because this is the most popular route, it can get busier than going clockwise.

For those who don’t have time to hike the whole tour in one go, or are doing it with kids, splitting it in two can be a good option. You can do this by completing the Les Houches to Courmayeur section one summer and then returning to Courmayeur the following summer to hike back to Les Houches and conclude the circuit.

Below we’ve listed the details of each stage. To jump to a certain stage, click on the links below:

Stage 1: Les Houches – Les Contamines

📈 Elevation: 646 m

📉 Descent: 6333 m

🥾 Distance: 16 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderately difficult

🛏️ Accommodation: Refuge de Bellachat, Refuge de Miage or Auberge du Truc, Refuge de Nant Borrant

Stage 1 of the hike kicks off in Les Houches. From there, you will pass through Bionassay and into Les Contamines.

If you choose to do the first part of the trail on foot, you’ll be thrown in at the deep end, with a 600 m climb up to the Col du Voza. There, you can marvel at the views of the Dome du Gouter and Aiguille de Bionassay. However, if you’d prefer a gentler start, then opt to take the Bellevue cable car up to preserve your energy.

For another variation, take the route through the Col du Tricot to experience even more magnificent views. However, this route is a challenge and is home to rougher terrain, so should not be attempted in bad weather.

You can also skip this stage altogether and begin from Les Contamines, which you can access by bus or taxi from Chamonix. This is a good option if you want to shorten your overall hike. Alternatively, Les Contamines is just over 1 hour by car from Geneva airport, so if you’re travelling from further afield, you could begin your trip from there directly.

Stage 2: Les Contamines – Les Chapieux

📈 Elevation: 1316 m

📉 Descent: 929 m

🥾 Distance: 18 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Refuge de la NovaChambres du Soleil, Refuge des Prés

The second stage is a challenging one, with an elevation of 1316 m over Col du Bonhomme and Col du Croix du Bonhomme.

Due to the altitude, there are some snowy patches even into summer, so make sure to pack the correct gear, especially if hiking early in the season.

Alternatively, you can cross the Col des Fours and head straight down the (very steep and potentially icy) descent directly to Ville des Glaciers and stop at Refuge des Mottets. This will save time on stage 3, but this route is not recommended for beginners or leisurely hikers.

Stage 3: Les Chapieux – Rifugio Elisabetta (Italy)

📈 Elevation: 1004 m

📉 Descent: 258 m

🥾 Distance: 15 km

💪 Difficulty: Easy – moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Rifugio Elisabetta

The Col de la Seigne marks the beginning of the Italian portion of the trail at stage 3. Here, you will have the option of taking a shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers to cut approximately 1 hour off your route.

The Col de la Seigne climb is gradual, however, by this stage, it can feel challenging as the past two days begin to catch up with you. But on the plus side, you’ll be rewarded with a cultural treat at La Casermetta Museum!

A man with walking poles poses at the Col de la Seigne on the French Italian border
Enjoy the gradual climb of the Col de la Seigne – photo by Ana Frantz on Unsplash

Stage 4: Refugio Elisabetta – Courmayeur

📈 Elevation: 460 m

📉 Descent: 1560 m

🥾 Distance: 18 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Cabane du Combal, Hotel Chalet Val Ferret, Hotel Funivia, Gite le Randonneur du Mont Blanc

Stage 4 demands less elevation than stage 3, but by this time, you will be feeling the effects of your hike, so don’t forget to pace yourself.

Expect a steep descent from Refugio Elisabetta down into the Val Veny and onto Lac Combal. From there, you’ll climb up to L’Arpe Vielle Superior, onto Mont Favre, before reaching Col Chécrouit and descending into Dolonne and finally reaching Courmayeur.

If you want to cut out the last bit, in peak season you can take the chairlift from Col Chécrouit to Dolonne. Alternatively, you can catch the bus from La Visaille to Courmayeur to make things a bit easier.

A mountain landscape in summer with a meandering mountain path and the sun peeking through the clouds
The stunning views of Val Veny – photo by Ana Frantz on Unsplash

Stage 5: Courmayeur – Rifugio Bonatti

📈 Elevation: 860 m

📉 Descent: 101 m

🥾 Distance: 12 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Rifugio Bonatti

Throughout this stage, you can enjoy a climb through the woods before taking a quick break at the Refuge Bertone. From there, you’ll traverse the side of the Mont de la Saxe and eventually reach Rifugio Bonatti.

Again, if you’re in need of a shortcut, you can take a bus from the Place Le Monte Bianco to the Bivio Refugio Bonatti bus stop. However, you will still need to hike for 1 hour up to the refuge – so don’t get too comfortable!

An image of a man trekking up a mountain path with large mountain peaks in the background in the Aosta Valley in Italy
Aosta Valley, Italy – photo by Ana Frantz on Unsplash

Stage 6: Rifugio Bonatti – La Fouly (Switzerland)

📈 Elevation: 895 m

📉 Descent: 1410 m

🥾 Distance: 20 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderatey difficult due to length

🛏️ Accommodation: Rifugio Elena, Gîte de la Léchère, Auberge des Glaciers, Gîte de La Fouly, Chalet ‘Le Dolent’, Hotel du Col de Fenêtre, Hôtel Edelweiss, Maya-Joie

It’s time to head into Italy! And the gentle nature of this leg of the tour is a welcome relief after the tougher foregoing days.

You’ll make your way up the grand Col Ferret, before descending into Val Ferret and onto La Fouly, where there are a number of places to stay.

Stage 7: La Fouly – Champex-Lac

📈 Elevation: 420 m

📉 Descent: 565 m

🥾 Distance: 15 km

💪 Difficulty: Easy – moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Auberge Gîte Bon Abri, Relais d’Arpette, Chalet La Grange

Stage 7 is another fairly undemanding stage of the Tour du Mont Blanc. From La Fouly, you can enjoy a pleasant stretch through forest and meadows before a final push uphill to Champex-Lac. Some may choose to take the bus to Champex-Lac instead from Ferret or La Fouly to save time and money.

An Alpine lake at sunset, reflecting pink skies and clouds, surrounded by trees and lakeside huts
Champex-Lac, Switzlerand – photo by Susan Flynn on Unsplash

Stage 8: Champex-Lac – Col de la Forclaz – Trient

📈 Elevation: 420 m

📉 Descent: 565 m

🥾 Distance: 16 km to Col du Forclaz, 18 km to Trient

💪 Difficulty: Difficult

🛏️ Accommodation: Auberge Mont-Blanc, Hôtel du Col de la Forclaz, Refuge Le Peuty, La Grande Ourse

Take in the views of the stunning Canadian-style lake in Champex-Lac before making your way through green pastures and meadows and passing picture-perfect Swiss chalets.

However, although there’s no col, the climb from Plan de l’Au buvette (1330 m) to Alp Bovine (1987 m) is extremely challenging. Once you reach Alp Bovine, you’ll have a further 53 m ascent before a well-deserved descent through woodland to the top of the Col de la Forclaz.

From here, you can choose to either catch the bus, saving yourself 1 hour more hiking, or continue by foot onto Trient.

A pink church stands out in front of a moody mountain backdrop
The famous pink church in trient – photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

Stage 9: Trient – Tré-le-Champ (France)

📈 Elevation: 1137 m

📉 Descent: 1077 m

🥾 Distance: 14.3 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderate

🛏️ Accommodation: Auberge la Boerne

Having completed the Swiss phase of the hike, this stage brings you back into France via the Col de Balme. This is a moderately difficult portion of the hike, however the stunning views of the Chamonix Valley will be worth the challenge.

If you want a wider choice of accommodation, you may be better off heading onto Les Frasserands or Argentiere where there’s a bit more going on.

Stage 10: Tré-le-Champ – Flégère

📈 Elevation: 1043 m

📉 Descent: 495 m

🥾 Distance: 8.6 km

💪 Difficulty: Moderately difficult

🛏️ Accommodation: Refuge de La Flégère

With the home stretch in sight, the penultimate section of the Tour du Mont Blanc hike is an unforgettable one.

Adventurous hikers will love navigating their way up the metal ladders, platforms and steps that aid this rocky stage up to the Tête aux Vents (2132 m). From here, marvel at the stunning Alpine views prior to continuing on to Flégère via the higher trail which brings you to Lac Chesery (camping permitted) and onto Lac Blanc (camping not permitted).

Bear in mind, Lac Blanc will likely be busy up until 3-4 pm as this is a particularly popular hotspot for day-hikers in summer.

A clear mountain lake reflecting the jagged mountain peeks surrounded by green pastures and rocks
The unmissable Lac Blanc – photo by Raymond RUTJES on Unsplash

Stage 11: Flégère – Les Houches

📈 Elevation: 772 m

📉 Descent: 1546 m

💪 Difficulty: Moderately difficult

🥾 Distance: 17 km

Finally, we come to the end of the tour! The considerable descent of the final stage will certainly make you glad to see the finish line. However, the remarkable views of Mont Blanc from the “balcon sud” will make it worth your while.

When you get to Brévent, you have two options: take the cable car to the summit or set your mind to the last ascent, which will take you between 1-2 hours.

Before reaching your journey’s end, you’ll need to descend some rough terrain on your way back to Les Houches – but just think of the sense of achievement once you get there!

Mont Blanc reflected in a small body of water in the sun
The view of Mont Blanc, captured near the top of Brévent – photo by Sies Kranen on Unsplash

Wildlife spotting

The French Alps are a hot spot for a rich variety of wildlife and summer is the perfect time to spot them! Keep your eyes peeled along the way and you may be lucky enough to spot some of the following:

  • Ibex
  • Chamois
  • Golden eagle
  • Sheep
  • Marmots
  • Bearded vultures
  • Cows

Have a look at our post on summer animals in the Alps to find out more about each species.

An ibex in the mountains
Keep an eye out for the local wildlife along the way! Photo by Thomas Jarrand on Unsplash

The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the top-rated mountain hikes in France. If you’re an avid hiker and you have the time and resources to do it, you should definitely give it a go! You’ll be able to test your limits, take in some breathtaking views and maybe even spot some mountain wildlife along the way.

We hope you found this introductory guide helpful. However, this topic is extensive, so there’s plenty more reading to be had! Here are some more resources you may find interesting about The Tour du Mon Blanc and hiking in France:

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