I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc over nine days in July 2015, camping every night, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I was able to stay outdoors rather than the shared dorms of the Refuges. As there is no pre booking I had more flexibility about the distance and route I covered each day, the cost was lower, and it was satisfying to feel totally self-supported. Unexpectedly though, finding the campsites at the end of a long day was one of the most stressful elements of the trip for me.
I used the Cicerone guidebook, which is aimed at walkers staying in Refuges on the route, but I found that it didn’t provide adequate information for me. Some campsites were a little off the standard route of the TMB, meaning that I had to walk further at the end of the day on a route not described in the guide. In some cases it was necessary to extend the day described in the book to reach the next place to camp. These are not real problems, but I would recommend a little extra planning to supplement the guide.
Here is the information I wish I’d had for the route I followed (all prices are for one person, one tent, one night):
Chamonix – I started and finished here, so my campsite wasn’t quite en route, but the Tourist Information is in a square at the bottom of the hill below the Brevent/Plan Praz cable car, and they will give information a map for all Chamonix’s campsites. I stayed at the Ile des Barratts, which was one of the most expensive at €16.50 a night, but had an amazing view, lovely pitches, and top quality facilities. I would recommend it if you are not on a budget.
Les Houches – Enter Les Houches, go uphill from the railway station and turn right. Tourist Information is on the left, keep going along this main road until you get to the Bellevue Telipherique. Camping Bellevue is opposite the bottom of the Belle Vue ski lift, follow a small road downhill and it’s on the left. Choose your spot in a flat open field (no shade), there are basic facilities – showers, sinks, and power points to charge your phone. There are bars, restaurants, and shops nearby. It’s good value at €7.50 a night.
Les Contamines – Be aware that Camping le Pontet is a further 40 minutes walk from the centre of Les Contamines. There is a short steep hill from the main trail that leads up into the town, Tourist Information is on the left side of the car park at the top of the hill and there are restaurants and shops here. To get to the camping, follow the main trail along the river until you reach a theme park with a swimming lake and playgrounds with climbing for children on your right. Turn right and walk through the theme park, you can see the campsite as you cross the river. It has a bar, restaurant, cafe, and good toilet/shower, washing facilities, with points to charge your phone. It costs around €10.50.
Refuge de la Balme – About 2 hours walk from Les Contamines there is a designated camping spot just below Refuge de la Balme with a public toilet and water supply 100m away. It’s in a beautiful quiet spot in the valley, I would have loved to camp here but it was way too early in the day for me to stop.
Les Chapieux – You can’t miss the camping here, as Les Chapieux only has a few buildings (the biggest is the Auberge de la Nova), and the trail descends steeply straight to it. There is a tiny Tourist Information office in the other half of a public toilet block, camping is in the meadows behind it. I didn’t enjoy this spot as it was full of RVs, quite busy, and had no shade, but on the other hand it was free. There is a restaurant in the Auberge but no shop for food, I cooked my own. There is a tiny shop that sells strong smelling goats cheese, honey products, and exceptionally fizzy local beer which I can recommend as a treat at the end of a long day!
Rifugio Elisabetta – There is a designated camping spot below the Rifugio, it’s a beautiful location beneath a glacier which has waterfalls running off to the valley below. It was too early in my day to stay, but I did eat there and the Italian food was amazing.
2016 update – I have received a lot of questions about wild camping at Rifugio Elisabetta. To clarify, wild camping isn’t legal below 2,500m (the Rifugio is at 2,200m), but if you did choose to wild camp there are suitable places close to the Rifugio. For more see my post on Fastpacking the TMB.
Val Veny/Rifugio Monte Bianco (Courmayeur) – There are no campsites as far as I am aware in Courmayeur, I stayed at Camping la Sorgente which is beneath Rifugio Monte Bianco (it is 1 hour’s walk from here to Cormayeur). I loved this campsite, my pitch included a hammock! It has fantastic facilities, including good showers (they cost €2 extra), toilets and sinks, points to charge your phone, a bar and takeaway restaurant with great food. You can order pastries for the morning and the bar serves proper Italian coffee. Camping costs €12.00. There are two more campsites in close proximity to this one, well signposted as you descend from the Rifugio, although I didn’t visit them.
Val Veny – La Peule – There are no designated camping spots as far as I am aware between Val Veny and La Peule which is equivalent to a 10 hour walking day. You have three options: stay in a Rifugio rather than camp, take a local bus for a short way to reduce the walking to a manageable distance, or wild camp.
Wild camping – Is not generally encouraged, but it’s understood that people do discreetly wild camp along the route, setting up camp at dusk and moving on at dawn. Ask at the Refuges, they will explain the local rules, and don’t camp within sight of them unless they indicate that it is permitted, or they may be fined as well as you for illegal wild camping. It goes without saying, leave no trace.
La Peule – This is a small dairy farm in a remote location just after you leave Italy for Switzerland. Although you can’t camp at La Peule, they have a couple of yurts and hikers can sleep in them on hay bales for around 5CHF.
La Fouly – Camping des Glaciers is a large family campsite in an ideal location on the route of the TMB with a great view of the mountains above. The restaurants, shops and cash machine in the centre of La Fouly are five minutes walk away. There is a designated field for TMB campers, including a building to cook and shelter in if it rains. Maybe it rains a lot because there was a huge storm on the evening I stayed – it was the only rain of my trip. It costs 8CHF, and the facilities are good, including showers, sinks, and a small shop where you can order pastries for the morning. When you leave, follow the track through the field you are camping in into the woods and you are on the TMB trail.
Champex-Lac – There is a supermarket on your left after the lake in Champex-Lac and I would advise stocking up here as this is the last one for a couple of days. The camping is on your right as you walk up the hill and start to leave town. However, if you plan to walk the Fenetre d’ Arpette route I would very much recommend going on to the next camping spot at Relais d’ Arpette.
Relais d’ Arpette – This is a beautiful location where you can camp outside the refuge and have use of their facilities including modern showers and toilets. The refuge sells food, and I bought a packed lunch which was ready for me in the morning as I left (€10.50/CHF). The directions to the Relais d’ Arpete are not very clear – as you leave Champex-Lac and the camping is on your right, carry on 50m or so up the road, then turn off left where you will come to a ski lift. Turn right under the ski lift to follow a Bisse (drainage channel). Although it isn’t well signposted, stick with the path by the Bisse all the way, it will eventually rise steeply until you reach a small road where you turn left to the refuge. Camping is €13.50/CHF.
Col de la Forclaz – There are two options for camping here, and the first is on terraces behind the Hotel du Col de la Forclaz. It has a great view up to glaciers above, and good facilities including a small toilet and shower. Camp on the lower terrace to catch the sun earlier in the morning. On the downside, the restaurant in the hotel is very expensive (26-40CHF for a small main course), and the shop opposite sells an array Swiss chocolate, but no useful supplies. Camping costs €13.50/CHF.
Le Peuty – This camping is 30 minutes walk down hill from the hotel, and is easy to find as it is well signposted and located next to a small road which is part of the TMB route. It is a designated camping area in a small field with a public toilet and shelter to sit/cook in, and costs around €5/CHF.
Argentiere (Tre-le-Champ) – At this point I detoured slightly because I wanted to visit Argentiere, so there may be camping closer to the TMB route at or just after Tre-le-Champ. I stayed at Camping du Glacier, and it was a fantastic vibrant campsite full of climbers and mountaineers. The facilities are good, with plenty of hot showers, toilets, points to charge your phone, and a bar and restaurant. I arrived on barbecue night which offered good value fresh food with veggie options. The onsite shop sells pastries which you can order in the evening and collect from 6:30am. The only downside was that the field was quite sloping so there were no flat pitches. It was really good value at €8.50 and I plan to stay there again.
I finished the next day in Chamonix, and returned for a few more nights to Ile des Barrats. In total my accommodation cost €106 for ten nights.
If you plan to camp along the TMB, I hope you find this useful. Since I published this blog post I’m often contacted by people preparing to hike the TMB, so I have added a blog post summarising your questions.