Camping in Chamonix
Camping is beloved of the French and they do it very well with campsites being an easy and popular accommodation choice - it is also a much more affordable way to enjoy your favourite places.
Campsites range from a basic field with a shower block, to fully equipped holiday parks with on-site restaurants and glamping lodges. There are heaps of campsites, the whole length of the Chamonix valley. Some are remote and idyllic, whereas others are a mere stone's throw from the shops and bars of the nearest town. For obvious reasons, most are only open in summer, so be sure to enquire in advance if you are coming before May or after September.
Luxury camping / Glamping
Some campsites go beyond a cold shower and a chemical toilet, some have untold luxuries such as dining and leisure facilities! If you're partial to a bit of glamping then Camping Mer de Glace in Les Praz, Camping les Deux Glaciers and Camping les Marmottes in Les Bossons, and Camping Ils des Barrats in Chamonix all score 3 stars on the French campsite scale.
Aires de Service
"Aire" is the name given to a lay by where you may pull over and park up for the night - some have facilities such as a toilet block, others are literally a few parking spaces at the side of the road. There is a good guide called All the Aires, that details where to find them and what to expect at each one.
Wild or off-site camping
Camping is forbidden in the mountains and the PGHM will occasionally clamp down on it; however some of the mountain huts allow bivouacking on their land, so enquire if they are happy for you to pop up a tent before heading for the hills.
There is only one official parking spot for camper vans and motor homes in Chamonix town; located at the Grepon car park next to the Aiguille du Midi you'll find access to a 'Flot Bleu', for sewage removal, water and an electricity socket.
In Les Houches you can park your caravan at a dedicated "aire de camping-car" on Route du Pont, equipped with a service area, RV dump, water supply, electricity hook-ups and WiFi. The site offers 22 parking spaces on one acre of sunny land with cracking Alpine views. Entry to the campsite is via an unmanned automated tollgate where first-time visitors gain access by payment (credit/debit card). The campsite is open 24/7 from 1st April to 30th November.
There is an over night unofficial motor home spot located on Route du Bouchet, just past the MBC bar. You can park over night but there is no access to a 'Flot Bleu' for sewage removal, water or electricity so you will have to move on quite quickly either to the Grepon car park or to a proper camp site.
Camping Plaine St Jean in Servoz also welcomes motorhomes from mid-May to mid-September. They are equipped with electricity hook-ups, sewage disposal point, washing machines and gas cannisters. There is a small grocery shop and a couple of restaurants in the village, just a few minutes walk from the campsite.
For a classic camping experience, hire a retro VW combi from Champervan. All vehicles have been restored to their original 1970's glory and are fully equipped for a retro camping trip!
Legalities of wild camping / parking-up
There are a number of places in Chamonix where you can park a camper van free of charge and without fear of being towed - beside the petanque pitches on Route du Bouchet, at the climbing wall at Les Gaillands, etc - but be aware that vans parked for long periods of time will attract the attention of the gendarmes and every now and then they will move people on. This is more likely to happen in winter, when the authorities need to carry out snow-clearing.