The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is, arguably, the best-known hut hiking tour in the Alps. This high-altitude multi-day hike in the Western Alps uses an extensive network of mountain huts, as well as accommodations in small villages, to circuit around the highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc. Hikers on the TMB experience an explosion of food, culture, and nature unlike anything they have likely experienced before.
But what if I told you that you can get all that elsewhere in the Alps without the crowds, and for less money, all the while getting a more authentic and local experience?
It is a secret that shouldn’t be a secret. I will never say that the Tour du Mont Blanc is anything less than spectacular. But before selecting the most marketed circuit in the Alps for your adventure, let me share some things you should know about hut hiking in the Alps.
10 Things to Know About the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)
10. The TMB covers approximately 170 km. (110 miles), and gains 10,000 m. (32,808 ft.) of elevation
The TMB is not a walk in the park. If you cover the circuit in 11 days, you are looking at about 3,000 ft. of elevation gain per day. Now, that's doable for most frequent hikers on a Saturday or Sunday, but eleven days one after another with that kind of elevation gain requires training.
9. Most hikers take 11 days to complete the route, but individual legs can be varied to meet hikers’ preferences
One of the great things about the TMB is the ability to vary the length of your hiking days as you like. The downside is that when you do the TMB, you are committing to walking the distance around a huge massif. It is not easy to shorten the overall distance, as the public transportation does not connect conveniently to other points on the tour.
8. The highest point is 2,665 m. (8,743 ft.)
This might not seem very impressive to my dear friends living in Colorado, but I need to mention that tree line in the Western Alps is at about 2,200 m. (7,200 ft.). Do not underestimate the amount of time that will be spent in alpine environments.
7. The TMB is not the only hut hiking tour in the Alps. There are over 800 mountain huts spread all over the Alps, enabling countless hut to hut circuits and traverses
This is a very important point that many do not realize. The TMB is not the only hut to hut hiking option in the Alps; it is simply the most marketed one. Now, there are two huge barriers to finding alternative hiking options for English speakers: 1) your English-language search for tours in the Alps will generate guiding companies and general information in the search results, without delivering the details you need to plan it yourself; 2) booking hut accommodations is more complex and time consuming than expected, often requiring a phone call from a speaker of the local language. The good news is that I am here to help you navigate through all that, and get you on an adventure in the Alps that is less crowded, meets your needs, and enables you to experience the Alps the way the locals do. Oh, and I should mention that I will customize to any budget.
6. A main highlight is that it covers 3 countries: Italy, Switzerland, and France.
This is one of my favorite things about the TMB – it covers 3 different countries. If you only make it to the Alps once or twice in your life, then you might as well try to cover several countries. The TMB is great for that. There are also other ways to cover multiple countries, such as a 3-country hut to hut tour through Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. There is also a fabulous alternate circuit to the Tour du Mont Blanc that is just two valleys East, traveling through 2 countries: Switzerland and Italy. But if you really want a comprehensive experience in the Alps, with multiple countries, lots of nature, cultural experiences, and calorie burning, consider a bike tour. Did you know you can ride your bike, mostly on car-free bike paths or small farm roads, all the way from Munich to Venice? Now you do! Add that one to your list!
5. The TMB is not for beginners. Hikers need to be conditioned to tackle significant altitude gain daily, and prepared to face exposure and climbing sections on ladders
We all know famous hikes strewn with inexperienced hikers just because they are famous – Angel’s Landing in Zion NP US, Half Dome in Yosemite NP US, and Besseggen Ridge in Norway, to name a few. The TMB is also on that list, but more due to how strenuous it is, even though there are some ladder sections that introduce exposure. I, personally, do not recommend the TMB for beginners. I also don’t find that the TMB is exactly the right fit for many experienced hikers. There are other hut tours in the Alps with exciting cabled sections, some with via ferratas, and many with non-technical (crampons, but no rope) glacier crossings; all appealing features for experienced hikers. And if you like to eat, there is a hut to hut tour just for that as well. Where I will certainly give the TMB credit, is that it is perfect for experienced and fit hikers who prefer comfort and luxury along the way, and are willing to pay for it. Let me just clarify though, comfort and luxury is always relative.
4. The TMB is among the best-known hut tours, and is therefore also among the most crowded and expensive hut tours in the Alps
My mantra about adventuring in the Alps – the most marketed tours aren’t necessarily the best tours. This holds true for mountains, as well as hut hiking tours, and just about everything else. The TMB is crowded, more so in recent years than it was in previous decades. It also tends to be more expensive. Why? Anything that goes through Switzerland is going take extra currency out of your wallet. Also, the fact that the TMB goes through so many villages, means you will probably stay in one or two hotels along the way, which are more expensive than staying in a mountain hut.
3. Accommodations on the TMB need to be booked early, and start to fill up one year in advance. Elsewhere in the Alps, huts start to fill about 3 months in advance
Thanks to its popularity, some of the accommodations book up very early. This is sticky, because you can end up booking most of your accommodations, and then run into one that doesn’t work, and you need to re-do the whole thing. It is also important to be aware that not all huts on the TMB are equal. Do your research beforehand. If you end up too late in booking the TMB, no worries. As long as you are 3 months in advance of your tour, there should be another hut tour available that is just as amazing. And if it is last minute, get in touch with me, and I will see what I can dig up.
2. There is a helpful planning website that you can even use to book some (not all) of your TMB huts: http://www.autourdumontblanc.com/en/
Thanks to this website, it is feasible for you to plan and book your own TMB circuit, without relying on a booking company like mine. However, be warned: the accommodations not available for online booking, will present challenges, and will be very time consuming to book. If you don’t have the time to put into this, then either book only accommodations that you can book on the website (which will lead to a very strange itinerary), or give me a call.
1. During the annual ultra marathon around the TMB, the winner usually covers the entire circuit in around 20 hours. That’s one option to get around the hassle of booking accommodations!
I just want to pay tribute here to all the amazing ultra marathoners who run the entire TMB without even one overnight at a hut. You are amazing!
<<shout-out to Alpenventures’ customer, Erik, who will be running it this summer, directly following his hut to hut hike>>
Now that you are a little more informed about the pros and cons of the TMB, I urge you to start making your dream hiking tour in the Alps a reality. Access the TMB Planning Guide, as well as the FREE TOUR DU MONT BLANC PLANNING TOOLKIT, which includes GPS tracks, distances, elevation profiles and maps for the entire TMB, broken down into 24 segments to simplify your planning.
For those of you who prefer something else, I encourage you to check out the:
For those of you who love to eat, the Culinary Delight Hut Hiking Tour
If that still doesn’t cover what you are looking for me, feel free to shoot questions at me either on the Alpenventures UNGUIDED Facebook Page, or via email, email@example.com. I am happy to help you get the most out of your adventure in the Alps.
Please share this with all your hiking friends. This is information that every hiker with a bucket list should know!
Note: More observant readers may have noticed that I am carrying full backpacking gear in one of the pictures. Back-country camping is illegal in most of the Alps. Yes, as an inexperienced Alps hiker I did illegally back-country camp on the TMB (although I also did it legally, sleeping near a hut with permission, and in a campground). I haven't done that since. Why? First of all, the Alps are steep and there are not a lot of flat spots, let alone nice spots where somebody else has camped before. Secondly, backpacking is less fun when everybody else is flying past you on the trail with their light day packs, bee-lining it to their cozy hut for the night where they will drink a beer and be served a warm meal. As much as I love backpacking, now I just stay in the huts.