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Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and capping it all off by cozying up in your tent  under the stars as the crisp evening chill sets in? Maybe you’ve never considered it before. We didn’t know we wanted such a thing either…and then we learned about the TMB and that all changed.

Water and steep mountains on stage 4 of the TMB

We’re not exaggerating when we say this is one of the prettiest trails in the world!

 

We first hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017. We camped most nights and stayed in a few huts. Even after experiencing several more incredible thru-hikes across Europe, the TMB still stands out as the most unique and rewarding.  We created this guide in hopes that it will inspire more people to camp along the route, which was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. Ever since completing our own trek, we’ve spent the past few years researching the best campsites and most essential information to share with our fellow tent-dwellers. We even hiked much of the trek again in 2019 to ensure that our guide is accurate and up-to-date (and because we couldn’t help but return to one of the most beautiful trails in the world!)

Thanks for using our guide and we wish you a wonderful trip! As always, we’d love to answer your questions and hear your feedback in the comments below.

Happy Trails,

Emily & Ian

What’s in This Guide:

 

Everything you need to camp on the TMB – all in one place.

For those who want specific information about trekking with a tent, this printable guide includes campground locations, custom maps, a complete itinerary, and much more. At less than $10, it’s an unbeatable value! 

Purchase your digital guide here:

LEARN MORE  BUY NOW

About the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates  Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. The trail passes through seven unique and beautiful valleys, where charming hamlets and regional delicacies abound. Between the valleys, the route traverses rugged mountain landscapes and stunning high alpine scenery. The TMB is one of the most popular long-distance treks in Europe and is considered to be a classic walk that belongs on any passionate hiker’s bucket list.

The Mont Blanc massif covered in glaciers and seen from stage 11 on the TMB

The Mont Blanc Massif in all of its glacier-covered glory.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Distance: 170 kilometers (105 miles)

Elevation Gain: 10,000 meters (32,800 feet)

 Check out our extensive collection of TMB Maps to get a better sense of distance, stages, elevation, and more! 

How long does it take to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?

It typically takes walkers between 8-11 days to complete the TMB. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the TMB. We’ve structured this camping guide for the classic 11-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine or reduce stages.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the TMB:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the TMB is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.
Signpost with several yellow trail signs pointing in two different directions.

There are lots of variants and shortcuts that can be used to customize your trek.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the TMB. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race of the entire circuit typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators – not the best time to be trekking!

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

Crossing a snow field on the TMB

An easy snow crossing in July.

 

How difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

If you are reasonably fit and have some backpacking experience, you should be well-suited to the physical challenges of the TMB. It is a tough trek that involves long, steep ascents and descents on nearly every stage, but it isn’t too technically demanding. Make sure you have healthy knees, as the downhill sections can take their toll! Keep in mind that carrying a heavier pack will greatly increase the physical demands of a trek like the Tour du Mont Blanc. If camping, some extra weight is inevitable, but if you’re strategic you can avoid carrying too big of a backpack.

Read More: How to Train for the TMB

Which Direction?

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counterclockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. Below we’ve outlined some pros and cons of hiking in each direction:

Counterclockwise

PROS:

  • Follows the classic route, good if you’re a sucker for tradition.
  • Begins in Chamonix, which is easier to get to from the Geneva Airport than Champex.
  • Rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc on the final stage.

CONS:

  • More people hike in this direction, so the trail could feel more crowded throughout the day.

Clockwise

PROS:

  • Fewer hikers walking in the same direction as you.
  • The first few stages are a bit mellower, allowing you to get acclimated before tackling the tougher sections.

CONS:

  • You’ll pass a large wave of people walking in the opposite direction each day, which can get tight on narrow trails.
  • Champex (your starting point) has less amenities and is less conveniently connected by public transport than Chamonix. If you want to start in Chamonix and hike clockwise, be warned that the first day involves a doozy of a climb, which could be a major shock to the system.

Our stage-by-stage guide is organized for hikers walking the circuit in the traditional counterclockwise direction, but would be just as useful for those hiking in the clockwise direction.

Red boats on the shore of Lac Champex

Those who choose to hike clockwise will start in the pretty town on Champex.

 

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Tour du Mont Blanc is no different. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. Expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and not too much rain. However, you also need to be prepared for very hot temperatures, very cold temperatures, rain, and storms (and you could even see all of these in the same day!)  Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm or without the right gear is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting the weather. It allows you to see the forecast for specific peaks or coordinates, plus it has excellent radar displays and wind predictions. Check it every time you have cell service.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
Gray clouds partially obscure the mountains on the TMB.

Weather can change quickly on the trail!

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the TMB is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eleven days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the TMB. 

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, gites, and refuges sell meals and offer the option of purchasing meals. You can just show up for lunch, but you’ll need to order ahead of time for dinner.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, we think you’ll find that trekking in the Alps is every bit as much a culinary delight as a natural one! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the TMB are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.  

Water

All of the hotels, gites, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first.

Bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of wine.

Who says self-catering can’t be delicious?

 

Getting to and from the TMB

The circular nature of the Tour du Mont Blanc keeps logistical puzzles to a minimum, as you’ll start and end your hike in the same place. This makes it easier to store extra baggage and book round-trip transport to and from the trail. If you are travelling from further afield to reach the TMB, you will likely fly into the Geneva Airport (GVA). Depending on where you plan on starting your hike, you’ll either take a bus from GVA to Chamonix or a train/bus combination  from GVA to Champex.

We wrote an entire article with the sole purpose of providing you with in-depth information on TMB logistics. Check it out here! 

The bus stop in Les Houches, surrounded by pink flowers.

The worlds prettiest bus stop? This one in Les Houches has got to be a top contender!

 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the TMB is an extremely well-marked trail. You’ll see a variety of trail markers along various sections of the route, ranging from the iconic yellow and black diamond to the more modern bright green TMB logo. Generally speaking, if you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite its helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the TMB if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

No fancy GPS device? No problem! In this post we’ll walk you through exactly how to turn your regular old smartphone into a bonafide GPS– and you don’t need to use your precious data to do so!

Additionally, check out this post on how to find all of your campgrounds on the TMB and this one if you want to see our range of helpful maps and/or download the GPS waypoints for the hike.

Screenshot of GPS locations on a smartphone

You can easily turn your smartphone into a handy GPS device for the trail!

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the TMB. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages. 

Currency

The TMB crosses the borders of three different countries, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland then back to Euros upon entering Italy. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. 

Typical Costs

Although it has the reputation for being one of the more expensive and luxurious thru-hikes, it is still very possible to hike the TMB on a tight budget (camping helps tremendously with this!) Furthermore, you can even eat delicious foods and drink some tasty beverages without breaking the bank.

The two keys to saving money on the TMB? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

In terms of food, the best thing you can do is to avoid eating meals at restaurants and refuges. Sure, stop for a coffee and a pastry, enjoy a post-hike beer, and definitely pick up some local cheese, but if you cook your own meals you will greatly, greatly reduce your overall spending.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Hikers take in the views from the top of a pass on the TMB

Fortunately, the best parts of the TMB-like the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the top of a pass- are completely free!

What to Pack

Packing for the TMB is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the TMB, you can store your extra luggage in Chamonix. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Caution sign showing a person falling off a cliff.

This poor fellow didnt follow our packing advice….

 

TMB MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the TMB, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the TMB. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hikers making their way down to the Vallee de l'Arve.

Big shout out to our trekking poles and pack covers!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the TMB. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the TMB (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the TMB: An excellent resource.

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the TMB here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the TMB now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the TMB do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

Hikers sitting in chairs and enjoying the views outside Refuge de la Flegere

No wifi? No problem! The views and camaraderie provide more than enough entertainment along the TMB.

 

Wild Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Wild camping along the TMB is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through three countries and several local municipalities, each with their own specific rules and regulations. Generally speaking, wild camping may be allowed in France at high altitudes between sunset and sunrise, it may be permitted above 2,500 meters (from dusk until dawn) in Italy, and it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the TMB. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. Furthermore, there are quite a few opportunities to pitch your tent in free sanctioned wild and semi-wild camp spots along the TMB (see the guide below for specific details). If you choose to wild camp outside of these areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

Wildflowers on stage 4 of the TMB

This might look like an ideal place to camp, but it’s definitely not legal!

A Stage-by-Stage Guide for Camping on the TMB

Interactive Map

This interactive map is a companion resource to the stage-by-stage camping guide below. Every campground listed in our camping guide as well as all of the traditional TMB stops are displayed on the map. Zoom in to get a better look at a specific stage or campground. Additionally, all of the alternate routes and link trails that are described in our camping guide are shown in purple on the map, while the main TMB route is red.

 

Stage Zero: Les Houches or Chamonix

The Tour du Mont Blanc officially begins in the town of Les Houches, which is about 15 minutes by bus from Chamonix. The bus is easy to use and runs frequently, so you can stay in either town the night before starting your trek. Campers will be spoiled with choices when it comes to campgrounds in the area. Here are our recommendations for the best places to pitch your tent in both Chamonix and Les Houches, as well as the services available at the campgrounds and nearby.

Of course, if you want to spend one last night in a real bed before 10 days of camping, we won’t judge you for that either! There are tons of accommodation options in the area for a variety of budgets.

Map of campgrounds at the start of the Tour du Mont Blanc

Camping options in Les Houches and Chamonix.

 

Les Houches: Camping Bellevue

Camping is available at the Bellevue Campsite which is located at the base of the cable car of the same name. This is your only camping option in Les Houches.

Services at Camping Bellevue: The campground has basic bathroom facilities and places to charge electronics. It was closed for the 2019 season for renovations, but should be open for the 2020 season (and hopefully with some nice upgrades!)

Nearby:

Les Houches has several bars, restaurants, ATMs, a small outdoors store where you can purchase stove fuel, a post office, and a grocery store.  There is a bus that runs frequently to and from Chamonix, which has several outdoor retailers and shops that will provide you with anything you may have forgotten to pack. 

Camping Bellevue Website

Camping Bellevue – zoomed out view

Camping Bellevue – close up

Chamonix: Camping Les Arolles

There are several campgrounds in the Chamonix Valley, but this is the only camping option within the actual town of Chamonix. If you prefer the convenience of being able to walk from your tent to shops, restaurants, and other amenities, this is your best bet. If you don’t mind riding the bus to get to things, there are several more campgrounds in Les Bossons, which is on the bus route between Chamonix and Les Houches. We’ve heard that Camping Les Arolles is nice, but can get a bit crowded in peak season. Try to get there early in the afternoon to snag a good pitch.

Services at Camping Les Arolles: Free wifi, washing area, electronics charging, toilets, and hot showers.

Nearby: Chamonix has multiple grocery stores and outdoor retailers, bus stops, a train station, post office, several bars, restaurants, and bakeries, laundry facilities, and pharmacies.

Camping Les Arolles website

 

Stage One: Les Houches to Les Contamines

Camping Availability: Camping Le Pontet, Nant Borrant, or Refuge de la Balme

At the end of stage one, most campers will prefer to pitch their tent at Camping Le Pontet, just past the town of Les Contamines. This is the traditional stopping point for this stage, and it gives you better access to services and amenities, both at the campground and in the nearby town.

However, if you’d like to cover even more ground on stage one and you’d prefer a site that is more similar to wild camping, there is also the option of continuing on to Nant Borrant or even further to Refuge de la Balme. Think carefully before choosing either of these options, as you’ll have already hiked over 10 challenging miles just to get to the town of Les Contamines and you don’t want to overexert yourself on your first day. Getting to either of these camping areas could theoretically help you complete the entire TMB in less time, but it’s not the most strategic place to double up on stages.

Campgrounds near Les Contamines on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Stage One camping options

 

Camping Le Pontet:

Heads up: this campground is located about 40 minutes past the town of Les Contamines. You can continue on the TMB trail to reach Camping Le Pontet, or when the trail forks you can veer left to climb briefly uphill to reach the town. When you reach the edge of town, descend back down to the trail and walk onward to the campground. While you have to walk a bit further to reach the campground, it is right on the TMB and you’ll have a head start the next morning! 

Services: This campground has toilets, sinks (with potable water), warm (not hot) showers, a café/bar, places to charge electronics, and a covered area for cooking.  

Nearby: Les Contamines has bars, restaurants, shops, and an ATM. We highly recommend stopping in town for a cheese plate and a Picon Biere (beer mixed with the famous French orange liqueur, Picon) en route to the campground!

Camping le Pontet website

Alternative Option #1: Nant Borrant

If you continue walking a short way past the Nant Borrant Refuge, you’ll see some legal wild camping spots on the left hand side of the trail.  The camping area is marked by a sign reading “bivouac” and you can spend the night here free of charge.

Services: Compostable toilet.

Nearby: You can fill up on drinking water at the refuge. There are no other services near this camping area.

Alternative Option #2: Refuge de la Balme

Refuge de la Balme is located another 1.2 miles past the Nant Borrant camping area. Hikers are welcome to camp for free near the refuge. Check in with the refuge staff before pitching your tent.

Services: Toilets, potable water, sinks, and meals are all available at the refuge.

Nearby: There are no services near Refuge de la Balme.

More information about Refuge de la Balme is available on this website.

 

Stage Two: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux

Camping Availability: Les Chapieux or Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme

The traditional stopping point at the end of stage two is the lovely little hamlet of Les Chapieux, where free camping is available in the field next to the tourist office. However, if you want to stop earlier, it is possible to camp outside of the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.

Map of campgrounds near Les Chapieux on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Stage Two camping options

 

Les Chapieux

When you descend into tiny and charming Les Chapieux, you can’t miss the large grassy field on the edge of town in which you can pitch your tent for free.

The folks in the tourist office can provide you with tickets and information for the bus that travels to Refuge Des Mottets.  This bus allows you to avoid the one of the TMB’s longest sections of road walking (about 2 hours’ worth) on your next day.  We took the bus from Les Chapieux to Refuge Des Mottets in order to shorten our long trek to Courmayeur (we combined stages three and four). Make sure to wait at the bus stop (right in front of the tourist office) at least 30 minutes early or buy your ticket in advance since the bus does sell out quickly.

Services: The tourist office, located in the center of the camping area, has bathrooms with sinks (cold water, potable) and toilets.

Nearby:  There is a small shop across the road from the campsite that sells delicious local cheeses, snacks, and hiker basics like ramen noodles, trail mix, and some toiletries.  We recommend stocking up on foodstuffs in Chamonix or Les Houches to get you to this point, but the shop will meet your needs in a pinch.  Additionally, the Auberge de la Nova, just down the road from your campsite, is a nice option for drinks, snacks, or dinner.

Contact information for the Tourist Office in Les Chapieux can be found on their website.

Tent at Les Chapieux campground.

Our beautiful pitch in Les Chapieux. You can check out the tent we used here.

 

Alternative Option: Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme

This refuge is located just past the top of Col du Bonhomme, meaning that in good weather this could be a glorious place to pitch your tent with sweeping views of the surrounding area. Hikers are allowed to set up camp for free just outside the refuge. However, in cold/windy/rainy/stormy conditions, this would be a pretty miserable place to camp. In any case, the particular location of this campsite (just before your descent into Les Chapieux at the end of stage two) means it’s not a very practical stopping point for most TMB hikers.

Services: Toilets, showers, electronics charging, potable water, meals for purchase.

Nearby: There are no shops or services until you reach Les Chapieux.

Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme website

 

Stage Three: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta

Camping Availability: Val Veny Campgrounds

The traditional stage three of the TMB poses some problems for campers. You cannot camp at Rifugio Elisabetta and there are no towns or campgrounds anywhere near the rifugio that offer somewhere for you to pitch your tent. Furthermore, you cannot wild camp anywhere near Rifugio Elisabetta. We’ve heard from numerous hikers that the rifugio has really cracked down on this in recent years. So, what’s a camper to do?

The easiest option is to stay in the rifugio instead of camping along this stage. If that’s your plan, we strongly recommend that you make reservations in advance, as it fills up quickly. For those who are determined to camp, we’ve described a couple of solid alternative options for you below.

Map of camping options near Rifugio Elisabetta.

Stage Three camping options near Rifugio Elisabetta.

 

Option #1: Stay at Rifugio Elisabetta

This is a stunningly beautiful place to spend the night, and the rifugio serves up meals and refreshments (a bit pricey, but highly recommended) in a cozy, memorable setting.

Services: Toilets, showers, meals (including packed lunches), potable water.

Nearby:  The Rifugio sells meals and snacks and there is drinking water available.  However, if you decide to stop here, be aware that there is nothing else in the area in the way of food or supplies. The next place with food, water, and toilets is Rifugio Maison Vielle, which is about three hours away.

Contact the rigugio at info@rifugioelisabetta.com for booking and information.

 

Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Rifugio Elisabetta – not a bad place to have to spend the night!

 

Option #2: Val Veny Campgrounds

For those who are determined to camp at the end of stage three, but don’t want to double-up on stages, this is your best option. This alternative still requires you to hike further than the traditional stage three stopping point (about 4-5 miles extra), but much of that walking is easy (if boring) road walking or gentle downhill trails. Hikers who choose this option will leave the traditional TMB route and descend into the Veny Valley (Val Veny), where they can walk and/or catch the bus to one of the three campgrounds in the area.

If you want to camp at Val Veny, continue on the main TMB trail past Rifugio Elisabetta until you get to the far end of Lac Combal, at which point you’ll reach a bridge and a trail junction. From there, take the signposted route towards La Visaille. Once you get to La Visaille (2 miles past the junction at Lac Combal), you can either catch the local bus or walk on the road to one of the three campgrounds in Val Veny. The first of these campgrounds is a little over a mile past La Visaille.

On the following day, you can either continue along the road to reach Courmayeur, following the bad weather TMB alternate route or hike back up to meet the main TMB route. While the alternate route will get you there much faster, you’ll miss out on a really beautiful section of the Tour du Mont Blanc. We recommend that you rejoin the main route in order to enjoy this stage to the fullest.

To rejoin you have two options. For those who want to hike the entire stage four, you can retrace your steps from the previous day back to the junction at Lac Combal (you can also ride the bus back to La Visaille and walk from there). A shorter option would be to take the trail that starts in Val Veny and leads directly up to meet the TMB. You can access this trail from behind Camping Aiguille Noire, just under the Zerotta ski lift.

Information on the Val Veny Campgrounds

Services: All of the campgrounds in Val Veny offer potable water, toilets, electronics charging, hot showers, sinks, restaurants, and small shops. La Sorgente and Camping Hobo offer free wifi. Camping Aiguille Noire has an ATM.

Nearby: There is a bus that runs between La Visaille and Courmayeur, and you can catch it from a stop very close to the campgrounds. There are no other services available until you reach Courmayeur.

Camping Aiguille Noire website.

Camping Hobo website

Camping Mont Blanc La Sorgente website

Option #3: Combine Stages Three and Four

Warning: this one’s only for the hardcore hikers out there! It is possible to hike from Les Chapieux all the way to Courmayeur in one (long) day. While this gets you out of having to stay at Rifugio Elisabetta, it doesn’t solve all of your camping problems, as there’s nowhere to pitch a tent in Courmayeur either. Courmayeur, however, does provide more services and a wider range of accommodation offerings than Elisabetta. If you want to double up on stages three and four, we’d recommend you take the following shortcuts to make this big day a bit easier:

  1. Take the bus from Les Chapieux to Refuge Des Mottets to cut out about two hours of road walking at the start of the day. Make sure to wait at the bus stop (right in front of the tourist office) at least 30 minutes early or buy your ticket in advance (from the tourist office) since the bus does sell out quickly.
  2. Consider riding the cable car or chairlift down to Courmayeur. The trail will bring you right past both options. The cable car is more direct, but if it’s not running you can ride the chairlift down a bit and then transfer to a cable car that will take you to Dolonne, just across the river from Courmayeur. This is a good idea if you want to avoid a very steep and seemingly endless descent into Courmayeur.
Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur is beautiful at night but hopefully you’ll be done hiking before dark!

Stage Four: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur

Camping Availability: Val Ferret or Val Veny

There are no campgrounds within the town of Courmayeur.  One option is to treat yourself to a real bed and some ridiculously delicious food in lovely Courmayeur, Italy’s iconic mountaineering village.

Or, you can hop on the local bus to reach a number of well-appointed campgrounds, cozy up in your tent, and still get down on some delicious food. We’ve laid out your options below:

Map of campgrounds near Courmayeur, Italy

Camping options in Val Veny and Val Ferret near Courmayeur.

 

Option #1: Stay in Courmayeur Anyway

We decided to splurge on a hotel in the lovely nearby town of La Saxe (just north of Courmayeur) for this stage, and let me tell you it was worth every penny.  If you’re into cozy, luxurious, and affordable lodging experiences, check out Maison La Saxe.  This tiny hotel offers top-notch service and a peaceful location with convenient access to the Courmayeur city center.  They also serve up a delicious complimentary breakfast made with all local, high-quality ingredients.  Book Suite #2 for a private roof terrace and breathtaking views of the entire valley.

Nearby: Courmayeur has restaurants, bars, ATMs, laundry services, outdoor retailers, pharmacies, grocery stores, and a bus stop.  

Image of Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur is a classic Italian mountaineering town.

 

Option #2: Camp in Val Ferret

If you are more hardcore than we were and you decide to camp,  Camping Grand Jorasses is a good option.  It is about 3.5 miles down the road past Courmayeur in the town of Plampincieux (local bus #924 will take you right there from Courmayeur).  The campground is in Val Ferret (directly below the TMB route). The staff can give you information about nearby trails that will connect you back with the TMB. 

Services at Camping Grandes Jorasses: Bathrooms, sinks, showers, electronics charging, small shop, and a pizzeria/bar. 

Nearby: Besides the bus stop, there are no other services available. You’ll need to go into Courmayeur to access shops, ATMs, and other services.

Camping Grandes Jorasses website

Option #3: Camp in Val Veny

If you didn’t camp in Val Veny on the previous stage (or even if you did and you don’t mind a repeat), you can ride the local bus between the campgrounds in Val Veny and Courmayeur. When you’re ready to begin your hike the following day, simply ride back to Courmayeur and rejoin the trail.

Information on the Val Veny Campgrounds

Services: All of the campgrounds in Val Veny offer potable water, toilets, electronics charging, hot showers, sinks, restaurants, and small shops. La Sorgente and Camping Hobo offer free wifi. Camping Aiguille Noire has an ATM.

Nearby:  There is a bus that runs between the campgrounds and Courmayeur. There are no other services until you reach Courmayeur.

Camping Aiguille Noire website.

Camping Hobo website

Camping Mont Blanc La Sorgente website

 

Stage Five: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti

Camping Availability: Val Ferret

Unfortunately, there are no sanctioned camping areas between Courmayeur and La Fouly. This puts campers in a bit of a pickle, since the trail gets pretty far from civilization along this stage and bus services to alternate campgrounds are limited. Don’t worry though, we’ve researched all of the best options for campers on this stage! 

Map of camping options near Rifugio Bonatti.

Camping options near Rifugio Bonatti.

 

Option #1: Stay at Rifugio Bonatti

The good news is that if you have to stay in a hut on your trek, Bonatti is the one to choose! This beautiful hut boasts a remote and spectacular setting.  It offers jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses, as well as friendly, efficient service.  Staying in a hut is a quintessential TMB experience.  It’s a great way to meet fellow hikers and soak in the communal spirit of thru-hiking.  While we preferred to camp most nights, we were happy that we stayed in a few huts along the way and Bonatti was our favorite.

Services at Bonatti: You can charge your electronics, rent a sleep sheet, purchase snacks and sack lunches for the next day, fill up on potable water, and take a (short) hot shower.  A lavish multi-course dinner and breakfast spread are included with your half-board accommodation.

Nearby: Nothing. Rifugio Bonatti is a few hours’ walk from the nearest town in either direction.  Make sure to stock up on provisions in the Courmayeur area before heading out.  There is restaurant in the hotel in La Vachey (about an hour downhill from Bonatti), but you won’t find another shop until reaching La Fouly.

Rifugio Bonatti’s website

Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Rifugio Bonatti – an incredible place to spend the night!

 

Option #2: Camp in Val Ferret

Camping Grandes Jorasses, located in Val Ferret, remains the closest and most convenient camping option on this stage of the TMB.

If you really want to camp every night, but don’t want to miss out on too much of the main TMB route, here’s what you could do:

  • Upon completing stage four, take the bus from Courmayeur to one of the camping options (either in Val Veny or Val Ferret) and then ride the bus back to Courmayeur to begin hiking on the morning of stage five.
  • Upon reaching Rifugio Bonatti at the end of stage five, you’ll see a link trail that leads down to Val Ferret, where you can catch the bus to Camping Grandes Jorasses.
  • The next day (stage six), you could take the bus from Camping Grandes Jorasses to the Arp Nouvaz stop, where you’ll be able to connect back to the TMB and hike onwards to La Fouly.

If you do this, you’ll cut out a roughly 3-mile (mostly downhill) section of the main TMB route. Theoretically, if you didn’t want to miss out on any part of the traditional stage six route, you could hike back up to Rifugio Bonatti on the morning of stage six, then complete the stage as usual to La Fouly. Be warned that if you choose to do this, you’re looking at a very, very challenging day (15.5 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain!)

Services at Camping Grandes Jorasses: Bathrooms, sinks, showers, electronics charging, small shop, and a pizzeria/bar. 

Nearby: Besides the bus stop, there are no other services available. You’ll need to go into Courmayeur to access shops, ATMs, and other services.

Camping Grandes Jorasses website

 

Stage Six: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly

Camping Availability: Camping Des Glaciers

Campers will breathe a huge sigh of relief upon getting to this stage. Finally, there aren’t a million choices to make and inconvenient workarounds when it comes to pitching your tent! With a well-located campground just off the TMB, stage six is as easy as can be (at least the camping part…the hiking part is another story!) Camping des Glaciers might feel like a bit of a zoo at first, but it has plenty of redeeming qualities.  Yes, you’ll be camping with what feels like half of Switzerland’s children, dogs, and RV’s, but you’ll have your pick from several flat and shady sites and the views are dynamite.  

Map of camping in La Fouly

La Fouly camping.

 

TIPS: Choose a spot that borders the river to drown out any ambient noise from your “neighbors.” The camp office (like most places in the Alps) is closed for a lunch break in the middle of the day, but you can choose a site, set up camp, and use the facilities before registering in the office.  The staff is relaxed and they don’t mind checking you in upon their return.

Services: The campground offers hot showers, toilets, sinks (with potable water), electronics charging, and good free wifi.  The office sells a few snacks, stove fuel, and beverages. You can order fresh bread for the morning if you’d like.

Nearby: About a ten-minute walk from the campground, the town center has a few restaurants, an ATM, and a grocery store.  It’s true what they say about Switzerland- it’s expensive! We found the local cheese and bread (purchased from the smaller shops) to be the best value items for our money.  

Camping des Glaciers website

 

Camping des Glaciers – close up

 

Stage Seven: La Fouly to Champex

Camping Availability: Camping Les Rocailles or Relais d’Arpette

Camping Les Rocailles is located on the far end of Champex, past the city center.  When you reach Champex, just remind yourself that you have another 20 minutes of walking to do before you are really done for the day.  This might help you to avoid the “Are we there yet?” syndrome that can come after a long day of hiking. The good news is that you’ll have a head start on the hike tomorrow.  

This lovely little campground offers three terraces with mostly flat spots to pitch your tent, but not much shade to be found.   If you want to continue on even further to get a head start on the Fenêtre d’Arpette variant the following day, see the alternative option described below. 

Services at Camping Les Rocailles: The campground provides toilets, sinks (with potable water), hot showers, a dishwashing/laundry room, electronics charging, wifi, and an area for drying wet clothes.  The office sells beer, wine, and soda.  

Nearby: Champex has a grocery store, cafes, bars, restaurants, outdoor retailers, and an ATM. The lake offers several tranquil and beautiful spots along the shore for relaxing after a long day on your feet. Make sure you stock up on provisions before leaving Champex, as this is the last real town that the TMB passes through directly until the endpoint in Les Houches. 

Camping Les Rocialles website

Map of campgrounds near Champex, Switzerland.

Camping options near Champex.

 

Alternative Option: Relais d’Arpette

This alternative only makes sense for hikers who are planning on taking the Fenêtre d’Arpette variant on stage eight, as the Relais d’Arpette campground is not located along the main TMB route. However, if you want to get a head start on the variant for stage eight, this is a great option. Plus, as stage seven is one of the shorter and easier stages of the entire TMB, you’ll likely have plenty of energy to keep going a bit further to reach Relais d’Arpette.

The campground is reached by continuing about 45 minutes gently uphill past the town of Champex. To find it, simply follow the Fenêtre d’Arpette trail signs. Make sure you stock up on provisions before leaving Champex, however, as this is the last real town that the TMB passes directly through until the endpoint in Les Houches. 

Services: Toilets, hot showers, potable water, free wifi, electronics charging, restaurant, and packed lunches available.

Nearby: There are no services nearby once you leave Champex.

Relais d’Arpette website

 

Stage Eight: Champex to Col de la Forclaz 

Camping Availability: Hotel de la Forclaz or Le Peuty

You have two great options for camping on this stage of the TMB.  You can camp on the terraced field next to Hotel de la Forclaz or pitch your tent on the edge of the tiny hamlet of Le Peuty.

Map of camping options at Col de la Forclaz and Le Peuty

Camping options at Hotel de la Forclaz and Le Peuty.

 

Option #1: Hotel de la Forclaz

Hotel de la Forclaz is the more luxurious option of the two. Here you’ll have access to toilets and showers, as well as the option to purchase breakfast and/or dinner (although everyone we talked to said it was overpriced). The hotel has a small shop where you can pick up snacks and a few essentials. This campsite is also closer to Champex, making for a shorter day of hiking. Those who take the Fenêtre d’Arpette variant would need to backtrack about half a mile along the main TMB route to reach the Hotel. 

Services at Hotel de la Forclaz: Toilets, hot showers, electronics charging, restaurant, and a small shop. Transportation on/off the trail may be possible from here.

Nearby:  Besides what’s offered at the hotel, there are no other services in the area.

Hotel de la Forclaz website

Option #2: Le Peuty

For about half the price of Hotel de la Forclaz, you can camp in the field at Le Peuty. This is what we chose to do, and we found it to be a nice, quiet departure from some of the busier sites we’d stayed at previously.  To reach the campground, simply continue downhill on the trail for another 30-40 minutes past Col de la Forclaz.

Camping at Le Peuty.

Nice views from the tent at Le Peuty.

 

Make sure to reference our map when you get close, as the campground is really just an empty field without much signage or information. Be warned that the facilities are very basic. Just pitch your tent when you get there and someone will stop by in the evening to collect your payment. You can pay in CHF or Euros.  

Services: Potable water (cold), toilets (no TP or soap), sinks, sheltered cooking area with picnic tables, trash and recycling, one outlet, portable showers (hot water wasn’t working when we were there), clothesline.

Nearby: There is a restaurant at the gite next to the campsite, as well as a few other restaurant offerings in Trient (15 minutes down the road). There are no grocery stores or ATM’s in the area, so stock up before leaving Champex.

HEADS UP: In case you didn’t read it carefully above, there is no toilet paper provided at Le Peuty! We know we’re repeating ourselves, but we don’t want anyone to get caught unprepared.

Le Peuty camping – close up

 

Stage Nine: Col de la Forclaz to Tre-le-Champ

Camping Availability: Chalet Pierre Semard or Camping Du Glacier

Neither of these sites is actually located within the town of Tre-le-Champ (not much is). Chalet Pierre Semard is in Les Frasserands, which is just below Tre-le-Champ and very close to the TMB route, while Camping du Glacier requires a 25-minute detour down to the town of Argentiere. 

While Pierre Semard gets points for its great facilities and proximity to the trail, Camping du Glacier has the advantage of being near a bigger town with more services. 

Camping options near Tre-le-Champ

Camping options near Tre-le-Champ.

 

Option #1: Chalet Pierre Semard

We camped at Chalet Pierre Semard, which might be the best-kept secret of the TMB. For a very reasonable price, we got a lovely, shaded campsite overlooking the stream and quality amenities. Additionally, the campground provides access to an indoor lounge/bar area with self-serve coffee, computer access, and comfy chairs- a welcome luxury on a cold, stormy afternoon! Make sure to treat yourself to the “hiker special” at the bar, which includes pizza or hot dog, fries, ice cream, and a beer for 9 Euros. In the morning, pick up the trail about 100 yards from the campsite (pay close attention- there’s a sign on your left, but it’s easy to miss!)

Services at Chalet Pierre Semard: Free wifi, laundry drying, covered cooking areas, restuarant/bar, electronics charging, toilets, sinks (potable water), and clean, hot showers. 

Nearby: Not much. There are a few auberges nearby where you might be able to eat dinner if you don’t want to eat at the campground restaurant. Otherwise, you’ll need to walk to Argentiere to access shops and other services. There is a train station in nearby Tre-le-Champ (5 minutes from the campground) which you can take to get to Argentiere or Chamonix.

Chalet Pierre Semard website

Tre le Champ camping – close up

 

Option #2: Camping du Glaciers

Most of the other hikers we met on the trail camped in Argentiere at Camping du Glaciers and they all gave it excellent reviews.  This is a large campsite with lots of great amenities. To reach the campground, you’ll have to walk an extra 25 minutes off the trail (and then back the next morning), but in exchange you get easy access to a much wider array of amenities in the larger town of Argentiere.

Services at Camping du Glaciers: Toilets, hot showers, drinking water, laundry, wifi, a restaurant (which serves breakfast), and a place to purchase snacks and stove fuel.

Nearby: Grocery store, ATM, restaurants, a Tourist Office, and bus services.

Camping du Glaciers website

 

Stage Ten: Tre-le-Champ to Refuge La Flegere

Camping Availability: Wild camping near the refuge or Camping de la Mer de Glace

There is no official campground on this stage, but it is possible to camp about 100 meters from Refuge La Flegere (ask the refuge staff to show you where to pitch your tent when you arrive). You can use the facilities at the refuge or in the cable car station (when it is open). It also is worth noting that if you encounter a massive hail and lightning storm like we did, we highly recommend staying at the Refuge La Flegere for its excellent food (dinner is followed by a local cheese course…really!), cozy ambiance, and hot showers.  It was closed for renovations for the 2019 season, but should be up and running in 2020! For those who would like to stay at an actual campground or who need to access more services, there is also the option of taking the cable car down to the town of Les Praz from La Flegere. 

Map of camping near La Flegere.

Camping options near La Flegere.

 

Wild Camping near Refuge La Flegere

Services: Potable water and toilets in the cable car station. Also, the staff at the refuge are very laid back so if you’re camping and want to use the bathroom or charge your electronics, just buy a coffee or beer and hang out awhile.

Nearby: There is a café in the cable car station that provides meals, water for purchase, and snacks. If needed, you can ride the cable car down from here to Les Praz to access grocery stores, sporting goods stores, and other modern amenities, but the ticket is quite pricey. Information about the cable car can be found here.

TIP: The water in the Refuge is not drinkable.  There is one slightly odd exception to this rule, however. The water in the cable car station bathroom is safe to drink (we tried it), but the station is only open during normal business hours, so be sure to stock up before it closes if you are camping.

For inquiries or to to reserve a place at the refuge, email: bellay.catherine@wanadoo.fr

Enjoying the view at Refuge La Flegere

 

Alternative Option: Camping de la Mer de Glace

For those who would like to stay at an actual campground or who need to access more services, there is the option of taking the cable car down to the town of Les Praz from La Flegere. The cable car typically runs from 9:00-17:00 and costs €15 each way. Once you get down to Les Praz, Camping de la Mer de Glace is a 15-minute walk from the cable car station.  In the morning, you’ll need to ride the cable car back up to La Flegere to rejoin the TMB.

Services at Camping de la Mer de Glace: Toilets, hot showers, electronics charging, free wifi, laundry facilities, covered sitting area, bar, and small food shop.

Nearby: There are restaurants, transit links, and a small shop in the town of La Praz.

Camping de la Mer de Glace website

 

Stage 11: La Flegere to Les Houches

(See Stage Zero for camping availability)

Congratulations! You’ve completed the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of the world’s most beautiful and iconic walks! This is no small feat, as the TMB is a major physical and mental challenge. It’s time to reward yourself. Hardcore campers can return to one of the campgrounds in the Chamonix Valley, while those looking to reward themselves with the luxuries of the indoor world should check out our recommendations below. Regardless of where you stay, make sure you take some time to grab a cold beer, reflect on your journey, and toast to your remarkable achievement!

Hotel Le Morgaine – We stayed at this highly reviewed hotel both before and after the TMB. We found the rooms to be spacious, the staff very friendly, and the location to be excellent. Room rates are also quite reasonable.

Auberge du Manoir – Known for their friendly staff, beautiful rooms, and great location, the Auberge du Manoir is a great option in Chamonix.

Hôtel Le Refuge des Aiglons – The Hotel Le Refuge des Aiglons is located adjacent to the Chamonix Sud bus station, making it an ideal location for the night you arrive in or before you depart Chamonix.

What’s Next?

If you’ve read our post up to this point, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience walking the Tour du Mont Blanc. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the Tour du Mont Blanc to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc