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Preventing Trailhead Parking Break-ins

Sectionhiker Limo

One of my regular readers contacted me recently about a car break-in they experienced at a trailhead parking lot in the White Mountains. Unfortunately, it happens, despite the efforts of the park service to patrol these lots.

Your best protection to prevent a break-in is to not leave anything in view in your car. Seriously, no yoga mats, hats, clothes, garbage, CD cases, cell phone holders, loose change, child seats, or anything that might indicate that you use your car for anything except transportation.

Beyond that, try to park at a trailhead that this is visible from the road or that will have a lot of come and go foot traffic while you’ll be hiking. If that’s not possible and you can’t catch a ride to the trailhead from someone else, make sure you leave your fancy BMW or Mercedes at home and drive your beat up car (or your partner’s) instead. If you’re a fanatical hiker, chances are it is already pretty grungy.

If you’re hiking on the Appalachian Trail, you can find out if the trailhead you plan to park in has had a history of break-ins by consulting the AT Parking Guide.

Some hikers think that leaving a note on taped to the inside of your window telling thieves that there are no valuables in their car can deter a felony. Others leave their car doors unlocked to prevent a smashed window. Be forewarned however, that bears know how to open unlocked car doors and have been known to trash cars that are inedible.


  1. I leave the glove compartment & center compartment open and empty.

    Everything possible is taken out of the car and trunk.

    I have read about leaving the car unlocked but am not brave enough for that.

  2. I should probably do that to.

  3. Add NRA and USMC stickers to the collection on the back of your car. That should help.

  4. Ditto on the console and glove box, also I open the subfloor compartments for view when we take the prius which is a hatch. Though most time we take our 10 and a 1/2 focus :)

  5. Leaving a few empty 12 ga shotgun shells on the ground and a some empty beer cans in the car and on the ground along with a note on the dash "Bill – went looking for the junction, be right back" has worked for a friend of mine for years.

    Be sure to clean up before leaving though.

  6. One way to see if a trailhead is prone to vehicle break-ins is to look for broken glass–the small pieces of broken auto safety glass. If you see ANY of this type of glass it's a sure sign that a vehicle break in has occurred in the past.

    A trailhead near a main road is not necessary a better bet–my one and only break-in occurred at such a trailhead. Easy in/out for the bad guys works to their advantage. Never–ever ever leave any money (checks, C Cards, etc, etc) anywhere in your vehicle–it only teaches the bad guys that money might be available. If they don't find anything of value after repeated break-ins some of these losers may try another activity.

  7. I like to leave my automobile at home and ride my bicycle to the trails. I second Steve's broken glass telltale sign. One time at a trailhead with broken auto glass around, as I was about to leave pavement, two sketchy looking kids pulled up, asked me if there were good trails back there. I didn't bother to ask what they were doing. People have caught wise, so I will probably never sit in the bushes by a parked car waiting to catch those kids breaking in.

  8. at radio shack i buy a red flashing LED … i then tape both leads to a 9 volt battery, this will make a very bright red flashing light, i then put this in the dashboard somewhere so it can’t be seen during the day … but at night it lights up the interior of the car with each flash. “fake alarm deterrent”

    i also almost always leave a note in plain view that says, “went for coffee with so-and-so, be right back”

  9. I’m not sure the “park at a trailhead that this is visible from the road” is a solid rule. Besides not being seen, the other thing a would-be thief considers is quick get away. Parking at the end of a long gravel road seems to give good cover to a vandal; however, they then have to drive out the same route that the next person will use coming to that parking lot. Besides, a parking spot along a road is easy invitation to a spur-of-the-moment drunken vandal to smash a window, or whatever. The same applies to house thieves. We’ve lived in many remote locations. But the only place we’ve been robbed was where the house was right on the road.

  10. I bought an old ammo can at the army surplus store. I load some of my stuff (like the faceplate of my stereo, important papers, etc.) into the can, hike a short distance, go off trail and stash it in the bushes. It’s painted camo. Leave a waypoint in your gps, or some kind of innocuous marker so you can find it again.

    My main concern though it having the vehicle stolen. I have an ignition cut out wired in so it won’t start, and as dumb as they are, I always use the club.

  11. So I am traveling across the country and doing hikes along the way. Since I am traveling my car is never empty. Wish I had a solution to keeping my stuff and car safe while parked at trailheads.

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