10 Tips for Preventing Trailhead Parking Break-Ins

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023
Follows these 10 steps for preventing trailhead parking break-ins and you'll be more likely to keep your vehicle safe and secure while you're hiking.

The number #1 thing you can do to prevent break-ins at the trailhead is to make your car look less tempting by locking the doors, leaving valuables at home, and parking in a conspicuous area. Continue reading to learn 10 tips you should follow every single time you go hiking.

The great outdoors is a wonderful place to escape the busy city life and enjoy nature’s beauty. But as much as we love exploring the wilderness, it’s essential to know how to keep your car safe at the trailhead. Thieves and vandals often target vehicles parked at trailheads, causing heartbreak and frustration for hikers who return to find their cars broken into or damaged.

Let’s talk about the various measures you can take to protect your vehicle and ensure a worry-free hiking experience.

10 Tips to Keep Your Vehicle Safe at a Trailhead

Follow these 10 steps for preventing trailhead parking break-ins:

  1. Research the trailhead and parking area
  2. Empty your car and hide valuables
  3. Make your car appear less tempting
  4. Lock your car and secure belongings
  5. Choose the right spot
  6. Use locks for external gear
  7. Consider insurance and documentation
  8. Prepare for emergencies
  9. Trust your instincts
  10. Spread awareness

Remember, the most basic thing you can do to prevent break-ins at the trailhead is lock your doors and make your car look uninteresting. Don’t leave any valuables inside or outside and don’t take your flashy new car to the trailhead.

1. Research the Trailhead and Parking Area

Before heading out on your adventure, research the trailhead and parking area. Gather information on recent break-ins, thefts, or vandalism incidents – this can help you avoid parking at high-risk locations. Here are some ways to research the area:

  • Read online hiking forums, trail guides, and trip reports to learn about others’ experiences.
  • Talk to locals, park rangers, or employees at nearby outdoor stores for firsthand knowledge of the area.
  • Look for signs of break-ins, like broken glass or discarded belongings, when you arrive at the parking lot.
  • Check with local law enforcement agencies about any reported incidents or ongoing investigations.

2. Empty Your Car: Keep Valuables At Home

One of the most effective ways to deter thieves is to keep valuables at home. The recommendation used to be to keep them out of sight, but with new Bluetooth scanners that’s no longer the case. These trackers show nearby Bluetooth devices, where they’re located, and even what type of device they are. This means a thief can easily locate your valuable electronics and will even know what they are before grabbing them. Read this interesting article from Outside Online about this.

Bring essential items like your wallet, phone, and keys with you on the trail. If you must leave items in your vehicle, make sure they’re out of sight. Any electronics should have Bluetooth turned off and be powered off completely.

Follow these tips to ensure your car appears unattractive to potential thieves:

  • Remove any visible items from your car that may hold value, including electronics, clothing, food, and electronic devices.
  • Hide charging cables, GPS mounts, and other accessories that indicate valuable electronics may be inside.
  • Store items in the trunk or under the seats if you must leave them in the car.
  • Leave your glove compartment open to show there’s nothing valuable inside.
  • Take all your hiking essentials with you.
preventing trailhead parking break-ins
When a potential thief looks into your vehicle, they should see nothing that sparks their interest.

3. Make Your Car Appear Less Tempting

You can deter theft at its source by making your car appear less tempting. You want to make it apparent that there’s nothing in your car so that when a potential thief look inside, there’s nothing of interest.

Sometimes, making your car appear less tempting to thieves is as simple as changing its appearance. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Park an older, less flashy car at the trailhead instead of your brand-new, expensive vehicle.
  • Reduce clutter and clean up loose change, gear, and food items – having these strewn about means there’s probably more stuff for thieves to find.
  • Consider using curtains or makeshift screens to block the view of your belongings.
  • Use sunshades or tinted windows to obscure the view of your car’s interior.

4. Lock Your Car and Secure Your Belongings

It may seem obvious, but the number one thing you can do to prevent theft is lock your car and roll your windows up. Don’t make your vehicle an easy target by leaving your doors unlocked.

You may hear some people say that leaving your car unlocked and empty will prevent window breaks, but know that if they take something or damage your vehicle, your insurance may not cover it since you didn’t take the proper steps to secure your belongings. At least most insurance carriers will cover window breaks, so that’s the safer options in the end.

Here are some steps to follow:

  • Always lock your car doors.
  • If your car has a separate trunk, check the manual for a setting that disables the interior trunk release. This can prevent thieves from accessing the trunk even if they break into the car.
  • Invest in a TruckVault in-vehicle secure storage system to act as a safe for your gear.

5. Parking Strategies: Choose the Right Spot

The spot you choose to park your car at the trailhead can play a significant role in deterring theft. Keep these tips in mind when selecting a parking spot:

  • Pick a spot that’s visible from the road or frequently passed by other hikers.
  • Avoid parking in secluded areas or areas with blind spots, as they provide more privacy for criminals.
  • Park close to other vehicles, creating a sense of community and making it harder for thieves to target your car.

6. Use Locks and Cables for External Gear

If you have gear stored outside your car, such as bikes or camping equipment, it’s essential to use locks and cables to secure them. A long locking cable can strap down noticeable items, reducing the chances of theft. Use locking cords for roof racks, roof boxes, and hitch racks to secure exposed gear. If possible, leave these items at home instead of bringing them along.

7. Consider Insurance and Documentation

Having insurance and proper documentation can provide peace of mind and financial protection in case of theft. Here are some tips:

  • Save receipts and online banking records for your gear, so you can recoup costs if your belongings are stolen.
  • Check your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy, as they often cover items stolen from your car or while traveling.
  • Document your valuables, such as taking photos or recording serial numbers, to help with insurance claims.
  • Before heading out on your hike, take a photo of your vehicle from all sides. This will serve as documentation in case anything happens.
The last thing you want is to return to your vehicle and find this..

8. Prepare for Emergencies: Save Contact Numbers

Before hitting the trail, make sure you have the necessary emergency contact numbers saved in your phone or written down. If you frequent areas with no cell service, consider purchasing a satellite messaging device so you can contact someone for help even when your phone doesn’t work.

In case of a break-in or other emergency, contact the following:

  • Local law enforcement or park authorities for the area where your car is parked.
  • Your insurance company to report the theft and start the claims process.
  • Don’t call 911 unless it’s a real emergency.

In order for insurance to cover damages, you must follow the proper steps:

  1. File a police report immediately.
  2. Make note of all changes and take pictures from every angle.
  3. Make a list of anything missing.
  4. Call your insurance company to file a claim.

9. Trust Your Instincts and Be Observant

Sometimes, trusting your instincts and being observant can go a long way in protecting your car at the trailhead. If something feels off or you notice suspicious activity, consider finding a different parking spot or trailhead altogether. If still park there but feel that a certain vehicle is acting suspiciously, take photos of that vehicle and its license plate, as well as anything else around you that seems fishy.

10. Spread Awareness and Share Your Experiences

Finally, sharing your experiences and spreading awareness about trailhead safety can help fellow hikers protect their vehicles. Post about incidents on online forums, discuss safety measures with friends and family, and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities.

By following these tips on how to keep your car safe at the trailhead, you can enjoy your outdoor adventures with peace of mind, knowing your vehicle and belongings are secure.

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Since 2017, Know Nothing Nomads has cemented itself as the “approachable experts” in everything camping, hiking, climbing, and adventuring in the Great Outdoors.

With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

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We are not journalists from a magazine telling someone else’s stories from behind a computer. We are the ACTUAL outdoorsmen that those people write about. 

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

When I'm not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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