Backpacking Tour du Mont Blanc
France › Les Houches Trailhead
Added by Drew Robinson
This will take approximately 8 days to enjoy one of the most popular long distance hiking routes in Europe. Over 100 miles in length and circles the Mont Blanc Massif, crossing borders and enjoy hiking in France, Italy, and Switzerland. Pass through and stay in quaint mountain towns and villages and enjoy the beautiful landscape and geography of the Alps.
Starting from Geneva, you can take a shuttle to Chamonix and then to the trailhead in Les Houches. From Les Houches, you can begin your trek counter-clockwise – some do the hike clockwise, but counter-clockwise will save the best views for the final stages. 8 days are doable for this trek, but duration will vary depending on your pace and time.
Each town you'll come across on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) has a varying selection of accommodation and food options. Many offer dinner with the price of accommodation, while others only offer you the bed. Sometimes it is cheaper to forgo dinner at certain accommodations and purchase food at markets when available. Camping is not permitted on the TMB, but many places allow you to camp within certain boundaries, most for a fee.
Below is an overview of an 8 day itinerary – buy a guide book for a full listing of accommodations and points of interest.
Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines A few hundred meters from the main square in Les Houches, the trail begins as a wooded stairway. The trail then leads through a light wooded area and passes by a few houses and roads on it’s way to the first high point, Col de Voza. After the Col, the trail is all downhill until Les Contamines.
Day 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux The path out of Les Contamines follows a gravel road past a pleasant forest. The first point of interest is the pilgrimage chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge. From here, the trail climbs steeply over slabs of rock and gravel, crossing bridges and closely following the water underneath. After a few miles, the trail links up with an access road and will take you past fields of grazing cows before reaching Refuge de la Balme, where the views are spectacular. It's onward and upward after leaving Refuge de la Balme. The trail is rocky but less steep than the climb after the chapel. Great views are in all directions, with snow capped mountains, lush green hills, puffy white clouds, and running water filling every corner of the landscape. The high point is at Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme, before a downhill walk to Les Chapieux.
Day 3: Les Chapieux to Courmayeur Leaving Les Chapieux, day three takes you out of France and into Italy via Col de la Seigne. There is a war memorial just outside of Les Chapieux, and the thought of soldiers holed up in this narrow valley gives the morning an entirely different feel. Once you put a few miles behind you, the face of Aiguille des Glaciers begins to intermittently peek out from the distance. The first two hours of this day is spent walking on a road until you cross over the river to find the solitary structure of Seloge. The trail picks up a little bit of steam after passing Mottes, mixing in a number of stream crossings before thinner trail veins splinter away from what was a wider main trail. The climbing isn’t very steep or difficult, and the views naturally draw you upward. When you reach the Col, it's a special feeling to be standing on the border of France and Italy. Head downhill and you'll reach Rifugio Elisabetta. You can stay here, or continue on down the trail to Courmayeur.
Day 4: Courmayeur to Chalet Val Ferret Courmayeur is an Italian town best known for skiing in the winter. In the summer, it isn't nearly as crowded, but equally beautiful. This is a good place for a "0 day" if you're looking for a place to relax and recharge. On your way out of town, you'll pass through a few blocks of residential accommodations before the trail picks up outside of Courmayeur and climbs very quickly towards Rifugio Bertone. It's a steep climb, but well worth it as the views of Courmayeur from above are incredible. From Rifugio Bertone, you'll see beautiful views of Mont Blanc and the Aiguille Noire. Just above Bertone, the path sweeps back into a valley and meanders downhill before straightening out. From this point on the climbing is at a minimum. You can stop at Chalet Val Ferret, or continue on to La Fouly.
Day 5: Chalet Val Ferret to La Fouly From Chalet Val Ferret, you’ll head over Grand Col Ferret, from Italy into Switzerland. The trail starts out easy enough and climbs slowly though the valley, crossing over a few streams. After a short climb, you’ll come upon Rifugio Elena. You may run into some cold, wet weather, here, so be sure to bring appropriate weather gear. The walk downhill after the Col is fairly easy and pleasant. The first stop on the downhill is La Peule, a nice place to stop before continuing on to La Fouly. The rest of the trail follows a road that usually isn’t so nice, but the number of cows and clanging cowbells makes the last few miles a relaxing end to the day.
Day 6: La Fouly to Champex The trail from La Fouley to Champex is relatively flat and uneventful. The great thing about this trek is that it’s enjoyable even in the rain. Chapex Lac is a beautiful place to explore and visit.
Day 7: Champex to Trient There are two route options for this leg of the trek – the standard Bovine Trail, or an alternative high altitude pass which may not be preferred, depending on the weather. The first few miles out of Champex are on a paved road. From the road begins a beautiful climb over creeks and into a wooded area. The climb was fairly steep, in places, and made difficult by the lack of traction. The ambiance of ringing cowbells work as an out-of-sync metronome, matching the unmeasured pacing of your feet sliding on the mud. The high point of this climb is at Alp Bovine, which is a great place to take a break and recharge. The climb downhill is similar to the uphill terrain you’ll have just traversed. Trient is a small town with only a few accommodations. You can also stay at the Col, above, if they have room.
Day 8: Treint to Argentiere and Chamonix This final stage has a few options. The standard route is to head north of Chamonix and descend to Les Houches. You can also walk straight on to Le Tour, and then on to Argentiere and Chamonix.
- Hiking essentials
- Quality footwear
- Trekking poles
- Cash in Euro and Swiss Franc
- Rain gear
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Bravo, Drew - you really captured a lot in this write-up. I just completed this trek in July, also going counterclockwise. One important detail for beginner-level hikers would be the transportation options (bus, chairlift) on each day in case of injury, a shorter timeline, or weather. If you go through a tour guide - whether you hiked independently or not - you can also arrange to have all of your gear shuttled to your accommodation each night (we met a few honeymooners who did this, and I don't blame them). Also, one super important detail, the estimated hiking time on signs is for a FAST pace. Of course, that's why most older hikers spend between 10-12 days on this adventure :)
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