How to Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc Self-Guided

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We first hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, camping most nights while also staying in a few of the mountain refuges along the route. At that time, we were able to make and confirm refuge bookings in March & April and plan things on a whim.

Much has changed since then!

Now, accommodation seems to book up the instant it is made available with guided companies scooping up refuge beds before the independent hiker even has a chance. While it certainly has gotten more difficult to plan a self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc trip, we’re here to tell you it’s still possible!

This guide will show you how to fight back against those guided companies and plan a great Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided trip on your own. We hope it inspires you to plan your own TMB adventure!

In this Guide

Self-Guided Tour du Mont Blanc Planning

All things considered, the Tour du Mont Blanc is a relatively straightforward trek to plan on your own. There is ample information available online, several good guidebooks, and a very active Facebook group that is a gold mine of information.

However, in recent years accommodation has emerged as one of the major hurdles to planning a self-guided trip on the TMB, with planning an itinerary becoming more difficult.

Don’t let that dissuade you though, as we have tons of resources to help you plan your trip.

To start, our Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc includes three pre-designed itineraries complete with custom GPS files to help you navigate. You’ll also find a helpful accommodation directory, as well as details on where to stay should some of the most popular options on the trail be fully booked for your dates.

Check it out below:

Plan Your Perfect Tour du Mont Blanc Trip

Our Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc is the ultimate tool to help you plan your perfect trip. You’ll get instant access to our online planning portal with three unique TMB itineraries, custom GPS files, accommodation & hut recommendations, and more!

Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc

Complete Guide & Planning Portal | 30 modules

Before starting your trip planning, we highly recommend getting more familiar with the trail. To start, our Ultimate Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc article will give you an overview of the hike as well as what to expect.

In addition. we recommend grabbing the most recent version of the Cicerone Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide – the best guidebook for the route in our opinion.

Once you’ve reviewed those resources, you should have a good sense of what to expect as well as some of the basics of preparing for a self guided Tour du Mont Blanc trek.

From here, you’ll jump into creating an itinerary, booking your accommodation, and arranging transit to/from the hike. Finally, you’ll want to have a plan to navigate on the trail.

We’ll go through each of these steps and more in the following sections.

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc
The Tour du Mont Blanc circumnavigates the Mont Blanc massif.

Step One: Pick Your Dates

The first step may seem obvious, but you’ll need to decide your general dates for hiking the trail. If you have some flexibility that will be extremely valuable as it gives you more options should your preferred refuges be full.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a summer trail, and we’ve provided some general information on the different times to hike the trail below:

  • June: The trail generally becomes snow free in late-June or early-July. Any earlier than this you will need to be prepared to cross snow fields, and also be experienced in that type of travel. We generally don’t recommend starting before the last week of June.
  • July: Welcome to peak season on the TMB! The trails are clear, refuges are full, and there is an amazing energy in all of the towns on the route.
  • August: In our estimation August can be the busiest month on the TMB. Most of Europe is taking a month long holiday (jealous!), the weather is settled, and all accommodation will be open. Be aware the the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, a trail race on the trail, takes place towards the end of the month and brings added pressure on accommodation.
  • September: If you’re lucky enough to be able to hike the TMB in early September, you should definitely do it. The weather is cooler, the trail much quieter, and most accommodation is still open.
A hiker crosses a snow field on the Tour du Mont Blanc in late-June.
We encountered plenty of snow on the trail in late-June.

Step Two: Create Your Self-Guided Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary

Ok, so clearly this is a big step and the heart of your trip planning.

This is often the most intimidating part of planning a self-guided TMB trip. To start, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the various stages on the trail – read about what each day entails, how long it is, and what your options for accommodation at the end of the day are.

Here is the standard self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary that most hikers will start with when planning their trip:

  • Stage 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
  • Stage 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
  • Stage 3: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta
  • Stage 4: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur
  • Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
  • Stage 6: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly
  • Stage 7: La Fouly to Champex
  • Stage 8: Champex to Col de la Forclaz
  • Stage 9: Col de la Forclaz to Tre-le-Champ
  • Stage 10: Tre-le-Champ to Refuge La Flegere
  • Stage 11: Refuge La Flegere to Les Houches

If you want more itinerary options, check out our Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc or consider working with us to create a custom itinerary – we’d be happy to help!

The TMB is traditionally hiked in an anti-clockwise direction starting in the village of Les Houches. However, if you’re interested in hiking opposite of most hikers, you’ll likely want to start in the Swiss village of Champex-Lac.

A self-guided hiker on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail.
Designing the right itinerary for your needs is the key to being all smiles on the trail!

Step Three: Book Your Accommodation

This step is almost certainly the most difficult part of any self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Accommodation seems to be booking up earlier and earlier each year, with many guided tour companies securing blocks of rooms/beds well in advance of them being made available to the general public.

Although this can be incredibly frustrating, there are some general tips to make the process easier for the independent hiker:

  • Start planning your trip/itinerary early. If you can have a general idea of dates in the fall prior to your hike, you’ll be in great shape.
  • Join the Tour du Mont Blanc Facebook Group – you’ll get invaluable tips from other self-guided hikers as well as real time intel on which refuges are taking bookings.
  • Be flexible! You’ll need to be willing to change plans based on what accommodation is available. Although popular options may be full, most stops on the route have plenty of alternative options.
  • Utilize public transportation. If a particular refuge of hotel is full, there is almost always the possibility of taking the bus/train off the route to find other accommodation. Yes, it can be a bit of a pain, but definitely better than not hiking at all!

Our Tour du Mont Blanc Accommodation & Refuge Guide is a good place to start and get familiar with your options along the trail.

If you’re unsure how to book your TMB accommodation, we’ve put together the video below to give you a general overview:

If you want access to the resources shown in the video as well as details on alternative options to popular accommodation on the TMB, our Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc has an entire section on it 🙂

Finally, should you find the process of reserving refuges on the TMB as infuriating as we do, you can always bring your tent and camp along the route. We of course have a complete guide to camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc that has all the information you need.

Rifugio Elisabetta on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Booking accommodation has become THE critical piece of a self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc trip.

Want to learn how to create your own route and itinerary?

Our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course will teach you everything you need to know to build your own custom itinerary. We’ll show you how to map your route, create custom GPS files, sync routes to your phone, and even print your own maps. Learn more below:

Ready to take control of your trip planning? We’re here to help you create your own custom itinerary and navigate like a pro!

GPS Route Making & Navigation

Video Course | 17 lessons

Learn more about our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course here!

Step Four: Arrange Your Transit To/From the Tour du Mont Blanc

If you’ve successfully reached this step of the TMB trip planning process you can let out a big exhale!

The most difficult parts of planning your trip are behind you, and you can now tackle some of the easier logistical pieces, including arranging transit to/from the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Luckily, this is a very easy step with tons of different options to get to the start of the trail in Les Houches or Champex. Your best bets are below:

If you’re flying into Geneva, you’ll have several options for getting to Chamonix, outlined below:

  • Flixbus: We found this to be the cheapest option and would highly recommend Flixbus. The service departs directly from the Geneva Airport and will take you to the Chamonix Sud bus station, in the heart of Chamonix.
  • AlpyBus: AlpyBus runs a door-to-door transfer service from the Geneva Airport to hotels in the Chamonix Valley. It is more costly than OuiBus, but also more convenient since they’ll drop you directly at your hotel.
  • Mountain Drop-offs: Similar to AlpyBus, Mountain Drop-offs runs a door-to-door transfer service for walkers arriving in Geneva. Very highly rated.

All of the options above will also be able to transport you back to the Geneva Airport at the end of the TMB. Many also offer discounts for booking a return ticket.

If you’re starting the trek in Champex, you’ll likely need to utilize a combination of train/bus to arrive. Most train lines will connect you to the town of Orsières in Switzerland, from which you can take a bus transfer to Champex.

Once you’ve arrived in Chamonix, you’ll find local transit to Les Houches is easy and straightforward. You can either take the local bus or the Mont Blanc express to the start of the trek in Les Houches.

One point to remember is that most accommodation in Chamonix and the surrounding area will provide you with a Carte d’Hote, which provides free use of public transportation in the valley. A great benefit!

Step Five: Make a Plan to Navigate on the Trail

Although the Tour du Mont Blanc is a relatively well marked trail, you’ll still want to have a plan to navigate. This is especially true for a self-guided hiker, as you won’t have the benefit of a guide to tell you which fork in the trail to take.

Luckily, it has never been easier to utilize offline GPS maps on your smartphone to navigate on the TMB. Simply download a .gpx file for the route, load it onto your phone, and voila: you can now see your location, the trail, and your surroundings all without cell phone service.

We wrote a detailed guide to navigating on the TMB, which has all the info you’ll need to utilize this method.

Offline mobile map of the Tour du Mont Blanc
An offline mobile map is a great way to navigate on the TMB.

If you’re after a paper map as a backup (always a good idea), this version is your best bet.

If you want to learn how to make your own Tour du Mont Blanc offline route (or a route for any other hike) check out our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course, which will teach you everything you need to know to build your own custom itinerary. We’ll show you how to map your route, create custom GPS files, sync routes to your phone, and even print your own maps.

Step Six: Pack Your Bags for the TMB!

Ok, at this point you’ve got your itinerary set, accommodation booked, and a good understanding of the trail. All that’s left is to pack your bags and head to the Alps!

In terms of what to bring, you’ll want all the essentials for a multi-day hiking trip. Our Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List is the perfect resource to consult for every last item.

However, there are a few key items for the self-guided hiker to be sure they pack:

  • Hiking Poles: Save your knees on those tricky descents!
  • Sleep sheet: If you are staying in refuges, a good sleep-sheet is a must.
  • Good layers: Temperature swings can be significant in the Alps, so you’ll need to be prepared for a variety of conditions. Merino baselayers, a down jacket, and a good rain jacket are the essentials.
A self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc hiker looks down the trail in the rain.
Having good layers is essential for the variety of weather conditions you’ll encounter on the TMB.

Tour du Mont Blanc: Guided vs. Self-Guided

Ok, by this point you likely have a good idea if a self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc trip is for you. However, if you’re still not sure, we’ve highlighted some of the key factors to help you decide between a guided or self-guided trek.

If you don’t mind being more self-sufficient and digging into the details to design an itinerary that works for you, you will probably enjoy hiking on your own. This allows you more solitude and flexibility throughout your trip.

Additionally, if you are comfortable and have the time to reach out, follow-up, and even call the various refuges along the route, that will go a long way in ensuring a successful self-guided TMB trek.

We hiked on our own and we were more than happy with our decision.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to worry about booking your accommodation or other logistics and you enjoy the social aspect of hiking with a group, going with a guide might be a good choice. Additionally, most guided tours provide baggage transfers, a helpful service for many hikers.

Check out some pros/cons for each option below:

Tour du Mont Blanc Self-Guided

  • Pros
    • Save money!
    • Get to plan your own trip based on personal preferences
    • More rewarding to have completed the trek on your own
    • Have your own experience
  • Cons
    • Booking accommodation can be difficult
    • Have to navigate the trail on your own
    • Must be organized and detail oriented
    • Have to arrange your own transit to/from the trail (which isn’t difficult!)

Tour du Mont Blanc Guided

  • Pros
    • Accommodation & transit arranged for you
    • Have someone else design an itinerary that works for you
    • Guides can provide great information on the trail and surrounding region
    • Never worry about getting lost
    • Often includes luggage transfer
  • Cons
    • More expensive
    • Less flexibility
    • Potential that you won’t like hiking with your group

A third option? The assisted self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc

Ok, so there is one last option you should consider when deciding the best way to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. And that is the tour-company assisted self-guided trek. This is a relatively new offering that has exploded in popularity over the past few years.

With this scenario, you will work directly with one of the guided Tour du Mont Blanc companies to design an itinerary that fits your needs. They will then book all of your accommodation, arrange your transport to the trek, and can even help with luggage transfer.

Of course, of all of this comes with a cost well-above what it would cost to plan the same trip on your own.

The biggest benefit is help in securing accommodation bookings along the route, as many of these tour companies have access to availability beyond what is provided to the public. You’re basically paying for increased access as well as help with the first few steps of this guide.

This is definitely something to consider if you aren’t trying to complete the trek on the smallest budget possible, or if you have no flexibility in your dates to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Have a great adventure!

We hope this post has given you some additional insights into how to plan a self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc trek. We had an amazing time when we hiked the trail on our own, and want to be sure that all hikers feel empowered to plan this trek themselves!

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about planning your own trip, and be sure to check out the rest of our TMB resources below:

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