The One Trek That Opened Rick Steves' Eyes To The True Beauty Of Hiking

Sorry, hikers: Hiking is just not everyone's idea of a good time. For some travelers, visiting a new destination is all about trying the local cuisine, taking in the beautiful sights, and lounging around at the beach or a cute cafe. Stomping along the trails of a mountain or rugged forest, tired and sweaty, just isn't on the agenda for many.

Rick Steves, a travel expert known for his TV shows about European culture and history, was one of those tourists who never considered packing their hiking shoes when going on vacation. But his perspective changed in 2021 when he set foot on the trails of the Tour du Mont Blanc, a popular hiking route in Western Europe. "Here I am, supposed to be this expert on European travel, and I've never done a multiday hike in the Alps," the travel guru revealed to Outside. "It was something totally new to me, and now I want to tell everybody what a great travel option it is."

Steves discovered that hiking can be a therapeutic experience, not to mention an adventurous way to learn more about a destination. Whether you're already a trailblazer or new to the activity, a trek around Mont Blanc might leave a similar impression on you as it did on the TV host.

What makes the trek so special

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a hiking route that circles the mountain, passing through three separate countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland. The route's tallest point sits 8,323 feet above the base, offering hikers a stunning view of the picturesque Alps from above the clouds.

Mont Blanc is also dotted with reminders that you're on a European vacation. For instance, you'll find stands and shops along the trail selling crepes, tarts, and other French pastries. You'll also come across numerous farms on and around the mountain serving local cheese and other delicacies. Besides the food, there are sightseeing spots that only hikers in the area get to experience. Some highlights: the Notre Dame de la Gorge church, the lake at Champex, and the ice cave at Mer de Glace.

Note that Chamonix, the town where the trek often starts and finishes, is worth carving out a full day for. The French village is shockingly photogenic, with quaint markets, pastel buildings, and beds of flowers — all situated just in front of the breathtaking mountains. Take in all the sights via gondola, cable car, tram, or even ski lift. At night, duck into one of the chalet accommodations for a cozy break from the great outdoors.

How Rick Steves completed the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc's 100-mile route might not seem fit for beginners, but that didn't stop Rick Steves from hiking it — though he did admit in a blog post that he cut a few corners here and there. First, he shortened his walking distance to just 60 miles, relying on buses for the remaining 40 miles or, as Steves wrote, "the less exciting parts." He stayed in accommodations located on the mountain and hired a sherpa transportation service to transfer his bags from place to place. This freed up weight in his backpack, helping to make the trek less strenuous for the long-distance hiking newbie. Finally, Steves revealed that he didn't rush when climbing up the mountain. Paths that were intended to take five hours took him and his group six to seven hours, but in the end, his patience paid off — within six days, he completed the trail, calling it "the best hike of my life."

He offered more insights about his hike in a video posted to Facebook, recorded near the end of his trip. In the clip, Steves mentioned that he got his body prepared and in shape before hitting the trails. He also stocked up on the right hiking gear, including walking poles and footwear made for hiking.