Let this be your quick overview guide to get a feel of what to expect when hiking the 100-mile circuit in the French, Italian, and Suisse Alps. Taking you through diverse landscapes of villages, meadows, and high passes get prepared and excited from reading this post.
Quick Stats of the TMB
Distance: 100 Miles
Elevation: 33,000 Feet
Highest Point: Grand Col Ferret at 8,307 Feet
Start / End: Various (Les Houches is most popular)
Average Time: 6-11 Days
Fastest Known Time: 19:01:32
Hiking Season: Beginning of June through end of September
The TMB is a popular trail for mountain bikers, trail runners, and of course backpackers and hikers.
The trail system is supported by its numerous villages and backcountry refuges that provide travelers a pleasurable front-country experience between their daily stages.
The TMB is broken down into 11 stages. For experienced hikers or athletic individuals, a single stage might be an underwhelming amount of time spent hiking, say a few hours.
However, with large elevation gains over high passes proper planning beforehand based on elevation and not just mileage is a good rule of thumb.
It makes no difference which way you hike the loop. Counter-clockwise might have been more common but that's only a biased hunch based on myself and people I know who have hiked the TMB.
Hiking & Route Conditions
Due to the nature of the trail winding around the Mont Blanc massif, the trail flows directly through many villages and towns along the way.
This can create fast paced sections because of the trail being a gravel or paved road approaching and exiting trails.
Plenty of sections take place on ski resort access roads too which provide easy grated hiking.
Where as the trail is well-marked and well-maintained, it can be quite easy to miss a sign at an intersection around the villages. Always look for the TMB letters on the sign.
My best advice is to get a good GPS map like what is available from FarOut (more details in section below.
Snow can be an issue in the early season of June, check local reports from the refuges or others in the area to see if its been a high snow year. In mid-late June of 2021 when I hiked the TMB there were only a few patches on the trail that were safe to cross with no gear.
Food & Resupply
A tasty addition to this trail being situated along many villages across THREE different countries is the food you’ll get to experience.
You should strive to carry a light-as-possible pack due to the easy access to food and resupply along the trek.
All refuges have dinner (and other meals), snacks, and beverages to sell which can be used to supplement your food supply.
Each town will have a resupply option ranging from a small market to a full-size Denner (European grocery chain). I would typically carry a day and half worth of food on me mostly consisting of trail snacks.
There are plenty of restaurants along the trail and my favorite for breakfast and any other time throughout the day as well, the boulangerie (term for bakery and café).
My favorite boulangerie along the trail is located on the north side of Lac de Champex.
Huts & Camping
The most popular accommodation along the TMB are the refuges. They sleep between 30-100 guests a night and come packaged with breakfast, dinner, shower, and bunk for around 50-70 euros per person per night.
It is suggested that you make these reservations in advance, especially in the high seasons of July and August. I found in June many larger refuges had on demand availability.
Although less popular, many people do carry a tent and exclusively camp each night.
Camping is a no reservation game and can become a bit convoluted based on each countries wild camping rules.
From my experience, France is the only country whose refuges potentially allow camping around. I believe wild camping is allowed above 2000m in France as well.
Italy and Switzerland both had stricter camping laws and designated people to stay at refuges or campgrounds in town.
With all that said wild camping along the trail is common even in the countries of Italy and Switzerland. Doing this use your best discretion and LNT principles.
Maps & Guides
I think the best map & guide to this trail for English speakers is on the US hiking app FarOut. This app is popular among hikers of long trails and has a very easy and fun interface.
The app shows you distance and elevation between points, water sources, refuges, towns, stores, camping, etc.
It’s user-based meaning people can comment and give advice or suggestions within the trail app. The price is under $10 as well making it a cheap all-in-one type of guide. See more info of FarOut here!
You’ll also have no trouble finding paper guidebooks to this trail based on its extreme popularity. I would always suggest to supplement any paper material with one of the three GPS map options I’ve included to ease wrong turns and rerouting.
Favorite Sections (Counter-Clockwise)
Refuge du Fioux Area: This section has views of Mont Blanc, easy roads winding through meadows and villages, and my favorite were the abundance of Lupin flowers (see cover photo).
Rifugio Betone Ridge: After climbing out of Courmayeur you reach a ridge that runs for miles with beautiful wildflowers and glacier views. The old farm ruins make a popular area to stealth camp at in this Italy section.
Lac de Champex: Just before the town there is a good camping spot at a climbing crag with an old WWII bunker built into the rock. It’s totally mysterious and sparks the imagination.
The lake is beautiful to hang out at and the town has plenty of resupply and restaurant options including the boulangerie that I loved so much. I highly advise the Fenêtre d'Arpette alternate route which is taken when departing town in the counter-clockwise loop direction.
The Ladders: I wasn’t totally aware of this beforehand but apparently, it’s quite infamous. You can take a detour around it if you’re not up for the scare factor. This is the section that you climb directly above Chamonix as you approach Lac Blanc.
It’s a set of about 15 ladders that have a high exposure and look down to Chamonix below. I skipped the Lac Blanc refuge and camped at La Flégère but Lac Blanc and its refuge is a highlight for many too.
Getting to / from the Trailheads
It’s logistically simplistic because of the roads and towns you cross along the path. By far the most popular place to start is Les Houches. This is a town down the valley from Chamonix and is reachable by bus or train.
The bus and train in the Chamonix area is free to all guests of a hotel or campground accommodation. The bus runs daily about every 30 minutes to an hour and will only take about 20 minutes to get you to Les Houches.
The same method can be taken to get back to Chamonix if you are completing the full loop.
Don’t think you have time to do the full loop? Transportation via bus or train can be arranged between certain sections to cut off a day or more of your journey.
Hotels and refuges along the way can give you the best details but as far as costs. Going from a major town to another major town is the most efficient.
Going from an area like Les Champieux to Courmayeur could be a 200-euro cab ride and the only option.
It's also possible to use ski lifts to supplement some climbs - not sure which I'm not a purist but this seemed to overcomplicate matters when the main point is to be hiking and climbing mountains.
Final Tips & Knowledge Shared
Although Switzerland has the Suisse Franc, everywhere that I saw and heard of accepted euros. You may get Suisse Francs back as change which may not be accepted outside of Switzerland though.
There are plenty of water sources. Besides fresh flowing streams and snowpack melt, towns and places along the roads will have the spickets and fountains that provide fresh potable drinking water.
Pay close attention to the signs at intersections, it’s easy to stick on one road and not realize you’re off the path until you reach the next intersection and don’t see the TMB.
Some French and Italian will do you well. The part of the trail that goes through Switzerland will be French speaking.
Bring plenty of euros but most places should accept card payment.
Be weight conscious, don’t carry extra clothing that could be stored back at a hotel or hostel in Chamonix. Same goes for food and gear.
The TMB comes with various alternate routes and even non-official TMB paths will get you to the same spot. It’s easier to think about this as circumnavigating the Mont Blanc massif than to use the official TMB trail 100% of the time.
Expect some severe thunderstorms while on trail, these usually come late afternoon and early evening so plan accordingly when doing a high pass.
This trail can be planned quite easily without any guide or service or paid material other than a guidebook/GPS map. Unless you specifically want to be hiking in a group, don’t use these services. Most people on the trail at least in the early season before these trips become more popular self-plan.
Lastly, this is a great place to spot Ibex! However I only saw them in the region between the Ladders and Les Houches.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and feel free to reach me on the comments here or my socials @secrethike!
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