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Trailhead Breakins - OutdoorPlaces.Com

 Trailhead Break In


A person stops at a highway rest area to stretch, go to the bathroom, and have a drink.  When they come back both of their kayaks have been stolen right off of their racks in the ten minutes they were away...
Car Breakins

Another person comes back from a five day backcountry hike.  They find their driver's door has been pried open with a crowbar, and so has their trunk, which contained their wallet and some camera equipment.  Now it is all gone...

In another story a party of four comes back from three days in the backcountry to find their car is gone, along with their wallets and numerous valuables...


What is a person to do?  Trailhead break ins are on the rise and cause thousands of dollars in losses and damages to campers, hikers, and paddlers each year.  This is becoming an increasing source of frustration for both authorities and those who use the outdoors.  Several key factors play into making trailheads a desirable and easy targets for would-be thieves:

  • Remote locations.  Most trailheads are located in remote places and have no lighting at night.  For the thief, this is an ideal for breaking into a vehicle.

  • Limited patrols.  Within the boundaries of national, state and local parks there is only a limited number of people who can go on patrol, and an even smaller number of inspectors to investigate criminal acts against personal property.

  • Your backcountry permit works against you.  Some trailheads require you to leave a permit on your dashboard stating when you left, and when you will return.  This serves a practical purpose to alert someone if you do not return, and to let any park staff know the car has not been abandoned at the trailhead.  However the thief profits from this information.  They can calculate exactly when to strike.

  • Sadly thieves are conditioned to know that most people going into the backcountry will leave their wallet, unnecessary gear, and unnecessary camera equipment behind in the trunk or other area of the vehicle.

  • Car alarms don't matter.  If you are going to be gone for a week or more, they may drain your battery dead.  In a remote location your car alarm going off will alert no one, and even if someone did hear it, most people today completely ignore them.

  • Trailhead break ins are on the rise because the use of the backcountry is on the rise.  With more traffic there brings more opportunity.

  • Most trailheads are located in rural areas.  Due to limited opportunities and activities, idle hands find ways to kill time, and sometimes killing time means breaking the law for a thrill.  This is not to say that rural folks are bad (OutdoorPlaces.Com is located in rural South Dakota).

So what is a person to do?  There is actually a number of things you can do to prevent becoming a target when you are traveling to or, hiking in the backcountry for an extended period of time.

  • Secure it.  If you are carrying equipment on your car top, make sure to use locks and secure them properly.  If you own a pickup truck or have an external spare, make sure to secure your removable tailgate and spare tire with locking mechanisms.  These are very popular items to steal.

  • Work with a local outfitter.  More and more outfitters will allow you to park your car at their facility and drop you off, and pick you up.  The charge for this depending on distance to the trailhead is usually no more than $10 to $20.  You will still be liable if the car is broken into at the outfitters, but your odds are lower.

  • Work with a local business.  You may be able to pay a local business to park your car in their parking lot.  If there is a 24 hour store around you may be able to leave your car there, but check with the management first.  Most malls and stores have a tow away policy.

  • Park at a manned entrance.  Most manned entrances to parks have lights, employees there at least during the day time hours, and traffic going in and out.  Some parks even close the gates in the evenings.  All of these elements are things that thieves do not like.  You can hike in from a more secure location.

  • Take a Greyhound Bus.  Greyhound stops in some very remote locations and small towns.  You may be able to take a bus close to your trailhead and walk from there.  Of course, your car may not be any safer at a inner-city bus depot parking lot.  Gray Line also may offer opportunities in some areas.

  • Don't be offended by local authorities who may ask you questions at trailheads.  We will not doubt that there are a small percentage of law enforcement officers that take enjoyment out of harassing people, but a vast majority are doing their job and want very much to work with us.  Bad attitudes and defensive answers do not help foster good relations with the local authorities.  As with most situations, you should go with the flow and if you feel you were unduly harassed, report it through the proper channels.  You will never win a confrontation with a law enforcement officer, and you will not be helping the cause of other fellow hikers.

So what to do if these suggestions are not practical?  Sometimes there is not a local business or outfitter who can accommodate you and the trailhead you want to hike is over ten miles from the nearest manned station.  There are some common sense guidelines you can follow to prevent becoming a statistic.


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