5 Day Itinerary for Lightweight Backpacking from Chamonix to Rifugio Bonatti
Explore the French and Italian Alps Hiking Actually Hiking AROUND Mont Blanc with this Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary
Do you have a week of vacation and want to maximize your sense of WONDER by:
- Feeling the luscious burn of hiking around Europe’s highest peak –
- Hearing the tinkle of alpine cow bells –
- Tasting cheese from said cows munching wild herbs on the mountaintop –
- Seeing incredible and varied Alpine landscapes, wildflowers and wild animals –
- Sleeping in comfortable beds each night –
- Drinking locals wines and tasty beers on the top of a mountain –
- Experiencing French, Italian and Swiss culture all in one trek –
- and totally UNPLUGGING from the world below.
The Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary hike offers a chance to connect to what really counts and you don’t have to be a mountaineer to do it. Training ahead of time is adviseable, but I followed along a family last year that did it with 2 six year olds and a 2 year old toddler.
Read until the end where you can download and print a packing list with everything you need to do the trek, but keep your backpack light.
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A light backpack = A Happy hiker.
Magical 5 Day Backpacking Trip Around the highest Peak in Europe
Example Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary
Follow along my journey of planning my first time hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. The past 3 years I’ve planned summer hiking treks in the Dolomites and this year I wanted to tackle the famous Tour du Mont Blanc that spans 3 countries. You actually start in France, walk to Italy and then Switzerland and back to France. Very Cool!
I got started in December to book mountain refuges and found limited offerings. Next time, I would begin the work early in September to book refuges.
We were limited to less than a week for travel so I picked the best 5 days on the trail that made sense for our group of travelers.
Tour du Mont Blanc Backpacking Trek
5 Day Section – 1st Half
Location: Mont Blanc, France & Italy
Distance: 45.3 mile Loop with Bus
Time: Approximately 5-7 hours daily
Elevation: 🔼17,050 ft 🔽13,700 ft
Difficulty: Moderate due to rocky terrain and elevation gain
Where to Stay on Final night: Armancette Hôtel, Chalets & Spa in Chamonix
Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary for 1 Week of Vacation
It would be so nice to do the entire circle around Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak. However, my friends and I work at jobs that prohibit taking off weeks at a time to go trekking. So the next best thing is to do the first half of the trail and plan it so that we spend the least amount of time on buses.
Fortunately, there’s a tunnel under Mont Blanc with bus service so it makes it easy to begin hiking at the traditional start in Les Houches and walk 5 days to Rifugio Bonatti and take a bus back to the start.
Getting to the Tour du Mont Blanc
Geneva is the closest airport where you can rent a car or take a regularly scheduled bus to Chamonix. Once inside Chamonix you can walk everywhere within the town.
2 Days in Chamonix
Chamonix is a nice place to relax before the hike because there are many hotels, restaurants and things to do and it’s a 15 min drive to the trailhead in Les Houches.
The day before the hike we will take two cars the end of our hike near Rifugio Bonnati and park the big car in a free public parking lot. Both drivers will then return to Chamonix and we’ll leave a car there.
Without cars you can utilize bus ARRIVA I59055 towards Funivia Sky Way (30) to return to Chamonix from Courmayeur. In effect you’ll walk one way and take the bus back to the start. There are many buses that connect Geneva to Chamonix and Chamonix to the trailhead in Les Houches. Check the bus timetables here.
Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty
This hike is not especially technical but it’s certainly challenging due to the amount of elevation change. Prepare your knees and bring your trekking poles because 🔼17,050 ft 🔽13,700 ft is a lot over 5 days. I’m going to guess that the decent to Courmayeur at the end of the day will sting a bit.
Stages Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary 5 Days
From Luxury Alpine Town in France to Luxury Alpine Town in Italy by Foot
Arrival Day: Get to Chamonix, France. Stay there the night before big hike and get a lot of sleep. There are many bus and private taxi or van connections from airports such as Geneva, Switzerland.
Tour du Mont Blanc Route
Get a hiking app for your Mont Blanc itinerary that is GPS enabled and download your track to your phone before the hike. This will ensure your phone can help you stay on the correct trail even without service. I like Komoot because you can plan day by day and have planned this TMB hiking trip here. But you can use whichever one is best for your TMB itinerary.
Tour du Mont Blanc Hike Map
If you are new to the world of hiking apps please read my article on how to use komoot app for hiking. It’s a total game changer and not really that hard to learn. I’m a huge fan of the multi-day option for paid subscribers. It gave me options on all the accommodations nearby the trail to make it really easy to plan distances.
Tour du Mont Blanc Trail
Stage 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
Monday July 10 – Day 1:
Hike 16.4 km
Enjoy a relatively easy warm up to the trail and we can use the gondola to shave off some elevation gain if we want. Stop at Auberge Truc for lunch.
Stage 2: Les Contamines to Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme
Tuesday July 11 – Day 2:
Hike 13.13 km
We will be going pretty much in one direction today, up.
Stage 3: Col de la Croix du Bonhomme to Cabana Combal
Wednesday July 12 – Day 3:
Hike 18.3 km
What a day! Views of glaciers and Mont Blanc almost all day.
Stage 4: Cabana Combal to Courmayeur
Thursday July 13 – Day 4:
Hike 14.4 km
We’ll descend into the Italian mountain town of Courmayeur and stay in a real hotel tonight and hopefully spend some time on the cobblestone town center eating delicious Italian food.
Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
Friday July 14 – Day 5:
Hike 11.6 km
We’ll climb uphill all day with incredible views to the Bonatti rifugio. It’s a short day so we may opt to do some dayhikes from Bonatti or side excursions.
I’m planning for us to park the second car at Parcheggio Lavachey near Bonatti prior to the hike. It is a 3.3 km walk from the rifugio to the parking lot. There’s a restaurant nearby so I’m assuming it’s passable in summer.
It’s a 45 min drive thru tunnel back to Les Houches where the other car will be parked.
Where to Stay Directly on the Tour Du Mont Blanc Trail
Accommodations on the Tour du Mont Blanc Trail
What is a refuge? Generally speaking they are high elevation accommodations of varying amenities. They are called refuges, rifugios, huts, or hütten, depending upon which language is spoken.
They range from luxurious to very spartan. Some have water, some run out. It all depends. But what is universal is that they are a pain in the butt to book. However, they are perched in some of the most beautiful and isolated landscapes in the world. As an American, i can hardly believe that such a thing exists. And they usually serve delicious 3 course dinners and have a breakfast with yummy coffee and lots of bread.
TMB Mont Blanc
Day 0 – Arrival Day in Chamonix
You’ll want to find your own accommodations in Chamonix prior to the hike. I would recommend to book your hotel on this website as it’s reliable to find a comfortable stay within the town of Chamonix or nearby. It’s a compact Alpine town and you can easily walk to dinner along the stream. It’s very ritzy and fun.
Day 1 – Les Contamines Airbnb
As of December 5, I couldn’t find any huts, campgrounds or booking.com places available for our date in early July before the high season. Whew. But I did find a chalet to fit the 6 of us with 3 bedrooms somewhere near the town of Les Contamines. It’ll be an easier day of hiking but that’s good for warming up.
Day 2 – La Croix Bonhomme Refuge
Hopefully it’s not raining because this is a true mountain hut on the top of a mountain with panoramic views. The facilities are super basic but that’s the point. It’s a respite from the world below.
Dormitory style prices for 2023:
32.50 breakfast and dinner
8.00 sack lunch
Contact La Croix Bonhomme Refuge
No credit cards. You’ll want to bring a sleep sac which is like a liner to protect against bed bugs, lice, etc. They don’t want your body grease on their pillows and blankets basically. They should have showers especially in early July but you’ll probably have to pay for them and it’ll be quick, like 90 seconds. Bring your own quick dry towel and mini tolietries.
Other refuges in the area: Les Mottets
Day 3 – Cabane du Combal Refuge
A nicer hut from online reviews, we’ll see. The prices are higher and I’m assuming it’s half board, their website is pretty basic and it’s hard to tell. They use the https://reservation.montourdumontblanc.com/ site to book but do reply to emails. I did not have pay a deposit but we got room 4 and room 6. We’ll have to do a competition to decide which couple gets the whole room to themselves.
4 person room prices for 2023:
90.00 euros per person.
They have towels and soaps here.
Other refuges in the area: Rifugio Elisabetta
Day 4 – Courmayeur
Here we’re in a glitzy Italian alpine town so there are hotel and airbnb options. I used Hotel Triolet because they offer a nice breakfast and comfortable looking rooms.
Double room prices for 2023:
160.00 euros per room including breakfast.
We should plan to have a nice dinner out in town and soak up the cobblestone pedestrian areas and maybe even do some shopping.
Other accommodations in the area: Check on this Hotel Website
Day 5 – Rifugio Bonatti
A hut with great views and isolated up the mountain from the valley where Courmayeur is located. It’s likely not to have great services but it’s half board and there’s not a lot of other options. We have 1 private room for 2 people plus extra bed and one private room for 3 people. Girls and guys? Who snores the least?
L’équipe del Rifugio Alpino Walter Bonatti
3 person room prices for 2023:
85.00 euros per person half board.
Other refuges in the area: Chalet Val Ferret
Packing List for the Tour du Mont Blanc
💡 It’s not about what you bring, it’s about what you don’t bring.
Not sure what to bring?
Go lightweight. It’s not necessary to bring a lot of stuff on a hut to hut hike. The huts (refuges) provide the food, beds, toliets, etc. Most people wash out their hiking clothes and hang to dry each night.
The refuges or mountains huts allow you to bring very little in your backpack. The lighter your pack is the more happy of hiker you’ll be. There are some services to do luggage transport to the refuges, however this goes against the idea of responsible travel. There’s really no need to make someone drive your luggage up to a mountain hut, or worse, load up a mule with your crap.
You’ll be hanging out with other hikers each night in the refuges to have dinner. Realistically, you’ll need one set of lightweight clothes that don’t stink to enjoy the dinner and breakfast services.
It’s totally kosher to wash out your hiking clothing and hang them up on the railings or provided laundry lines (at some refuges).
Printable Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List
Click here to download free PDF Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List
Costs of the Tour du Mont Blanc
Accommodations on Trail
You can go pretty lux in the towns of Courmayeur and Chamonix if you choose.
Please see the detailed Airtable towards the end of the article where I’ve documented the costs for the year 2023. But in summary inflation is hitting everywhere:
–in towns, you’ve got more options for hotels & airbnbs that run 135 euros for a double and up
–The mountain refuges with half board range between 67 to 90 euros per person per night
–Of course, the earlier you book you may find better deals.
–Sack lunches are quoted at 11 euros
–Meals in town at restaurants have increased recently to 15 euros and up per meal
When to Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc
Mid-June to Mid-October is when the huts and trail are open.
The Alps in August can be Crowded
–August is Italian/French/German vacation time, so you’ll be in high season.
–July has the best weather for families that need to do this trek during school break.
–Early June is chilly you can run into some snow. Same for late September and early October.
If you aren’t going with kids, early September would likely be the best as it’s least crowded and still warm.
However, there are absolutely no guarantees on weather. You’ll probably hit thunderstorms in the late afternoons so most people tend to get to their rifugios before 3 pm.
Resources to Plan Your Tour du Mont Blanc Hiking Trip
1. I started with the Montourdumontblanc website to assess the high mountain refuges. However, not all of the options are on this site, but it’s a great starting point and has a nice interactive map. These places are only open mid June to Mid October.
2. Google maps. Duh.
3. A great itinerary to do the entire Tour du Mont Blanc in 7 days. The author gives nice descriptions of the landscapes and it may suit more advanced hikers who want to move faster and cover more ground each day.
4. You can use travel sites like Airbnb and Booking to find hotels in Chamonix, Les Houches, Courmayeur and Les Contamines as they have offerings in the valleys.
5. The Tour du Mont Blanc Facebook group is a wealth of inspiration and information.
6. Private car transfer Chamonix to Geneva Airport.
7. Customized Airtable TMB Planner. I built this Airtable to keep myself organized and track the expenses. Copy and paste it to make it your own.
8. Detailed guide on how to use trekking poles and best budget trekking poles buying guide. You will definitely want them on this trek.
9. Plan your hiking time with a calculator.
🥾😓 Feeling Overwhelmed Planning a Hike? Use my custom-built online Hiking Time Calculator for Non-techie People.
Tour du Mont Blanc Self Guided Itinerary – Help
If it all seems to much to plan, you can hire a service to take care of the logistics but not have to utilize an in person guide.
Businesses such as Alpenventures Unguided will do the heavy logistical lift for you. You can simply just show up and hike. They will book your huts and provide maps and directions to do the hike on your own terms.
If I had a little more cashflow I’d use this to save about 20 hours of emailing back and forth and managing spreadsheets.
Guided Tour du Mont Blanc
There are also guided tours if you want a local mountaineer to walk with you for extra safety, context and fun. Cloud 9 Adventures and Mont Blanc Treks offer the Classic Tour du Mont Blanc, mini TMB treks and other variations that are led by a professional guide to ease your stress.
Other Great High Alpine Multi Day Hut to Hut Hikes in Europe
Italian Dolomites vs Tour du Mont Blanc? Are you curious about the other bucketlist hut to hut hiking trip in Europe’s high mountains? Our family has done the Alta Via 1 in summer 3 times so we’ve got a lot to say. Mostly about the food.
Listen to our 3 different long form stories about hiking the Alta Via 1 on multiple trips that we’ve done with family and friends over the years.
🥾Trails Worth Hiking Spotify, Apple, Website. He takes a deep dive into long distance trails and the history and mythology behind them.
🎧 Amateur Traveler focuses on the practical travel and highlights history : Website, Spotify, Apple.
🍻 Streets and Eats is all about the food and experience : Website, Spotify, Apple.
Author profile: Morgan Fielder is a physical therapist and passionate hiker who believes in exploring the world on foot with good food. Follow her journey as she shares science-based hiking tips and advocates for sustainable tourism.