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Ask Shelly: What to do with car seats at Yosemite?

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Toddler inspects bear box contents at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park

Wondering what to do with your child’s car seat while staying in Yosemite National Park? This post is for you!

When I first decided to write the Travels with Baby guidebook, I knew that the rules when traveling with babies and toddlers are quite different from traveling with older children (or no children at all!). The same could be said of visiting bear country with very young children. I was already working on a post with general tips for travel to bear country when a reader wrote in:

What did you do about the car seats at Yosemite? Did you leave them in your car or take them out? We’re heading there in a few weeks and I’ve been busily devouring your blog for ideas and travel tips.

All the best,

This is SUCH a good question for anyone visiting Yosemite National Park with small kids or other areas where “bear rules” are strictly enforced, and you must scour your car for any last scented antibacterial hand wipe pack or goldfish cracker and make sure it is out of your vehicle before leaving it parked over night. When road-tripping to the Yosemite with toddlers in the car, this can be especially challenging.

It’s good to keep in mind that each year curious bears really do open cars like cans of spam and help themselves to things that look and smell of interest. We had a good reminder this last visit when Tim walked past a bike rack at Curry Village in the early morning and saw a bicycle that had one-third of its seat bitten off! There it was. Or wasn’t. Our car was parked a short distance away with all 3 car seats, thankfully, still in place.

Staying in Yosemite’s lodges and hotels

When visiting the Yosemite Lodge, my reservations agent who was also a mother, recommended we bring the car seats into our room, which we did.

That was also the trip when we had one of our most memorable arrivals at the park—when my daughter, who had been snoozing through all the windy curves of the decent into the valley—woke up in the tunnel with a hurl. (I tell you, those travel trays I’m always raving about are helpful in more ways than one, but the car seat still needed an additional cleaning.)

We also carried all three car seats into our cramped room at the Wawona Hotel (read review). But we didn’t bother bringing them in from the car at Tenaya Lodge (read review) or Evergreen Lodge (read review) where it didn’t feel necessary.

Praise for Shelly Rivoli's Travels with Baby guidebook for parents

Staying in tents

When tent camping in Yosemite, however, your tent is probably the last place you want to stash your car seat. If you only have one reasonably-sized car seat, and few other things that need to go into your bear-proof storage box, you may be able to stick it in there if it will help you sleep better (see bear box photo above for reference). If that won’t work, read on…

Preparing for the trip

Otherwise, your most reasonable other option is to keep the car seat—and car—as clean and scent-free as possible.

We have a rule now that our kids cannot snack in the car on the way to Yosemite, which lasts about 35 minutes. However, it makes them much more careful when they do snack during the drive thereafter.

I find the Snack Catchers to be helpful, but not foolproof. Ideally, we take a good snack/meal break outside of the car, and keep them drinking only water in the car. (See more helpful gadgets in Best Car Seat Accessories for Travel.)

Hiking with kids southern California guidebook by Shelly Rivoli
Hiking with Kids Southern California: 45 Great Hikes for Families by Shelly Rivoli includes hikes in 5 national parks as well as several state and city parks, nature preserves, and national Forests.

Before visiting Yosemite, now with our three small kids, we thoroughly clean the car before we leave, including taking the car seats out, removing the covers and dumping them upside down. I won’t tell you what riches we’ve uncovered there, particularly this last time when we were prepping for our third road trip of 2010!

It’s a good idea to wash the car seat covers before you go, too, if your tots tend to snack and spill in the car.

The straps are the more difficult part, and using scented wipes or sprays we realized was not the best idea for cleaning them before bear country. If they could use some cleaning, I’ve had luck with just a washcloth and really hot water.

Once you’re at Yosemite

Before leaving your car overnight in Yosemite, I recommend doing a thorough check around your child’s car seat and under the seats—even pulling the car seat out—just to make sure none of those goldfish crackers, potato chips or raisins have found there way behind it.

And make sure any food remnants you do find DO NOT get brushed out onto the ground beside your car! 😉


Related posts and pages:

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks

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