Cleveland Rainforest

Cleveland Rainforest
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler

It’s Always Raining in Cleveland

Did you know Ohio has a Rainforest?

Separate from the adjacent Cleveland Zoo, ironically, is the ideal place to spend a rainy day.

Cleveland’s RainForest is one of the largest tropical indoor environments in the world. Housed in a massive two-acre, two-story, glass and granite structure, it features more than 10,000 plants and 600 animals from the tropics in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Many are endangered species from threatened habitats.

When you meander through the trees outside and come to a clearing it makes me think of archaeologists stumbling on ancient ruins in a South American jungle. When you enter this temple, you are face-to-face with a pounding waterfall front and center among the wall of greenery and Mayan ruins. It’s an impressive beginning to a great journey. The panoramic view of a soaring jungle environment spanning two open stories met by a glass ceiling and real sky beyond gives you the impression of nature dwarfing man.

The lower level or lower forest winds through a vast array of tropical plants on what is called the Medicine Trail. Sometimes, as with real rainforest, the foliage is so dense, you can’t see beyond the canopy. It includes Lancepod, Balsam, Lipstick and Kapok Trees, many orchids and rare Titan Arum to name some. Then, there’s a break where light pours inward and illuminates the vines hanging from very high above. This is the time to stroll slowly and absorb the beauty all around. Stop to take a closer look and smell the flora.

The huge Kapok Tree connects the lower level to the upper level. You’ll have to climb it. No worries, there are stairs and elevator access.

The upper level or upper forest begins in the Scientists’ Hut where anyone can play around with radio dials, pots, canisters, rain gear and other equipment set up to replicate the living conditions of researchers in the field, including stove, shelves of food and other essentials.

The design throughout the RainForest blends the jungle in and out of exhibits making you feel you are a part of it, not just on the outside looking in. Many exhibits have multiple vantage points where you can even see other people on the other side. Surrounded by fauna at every turn, some of the more popular attractions feature the two-toed sloth, orangutans – the youngest is sure to dazzle spectators, giant anteaters, macaws, fishing cats, clouded leopards and other animal names I can’t pronounce or spell.

And that’s not even the half of it!

Venture back to the lower level and experience an indoor tropical rainstorm. That’s right, it rains in the RainForest! Don’t worry, you won’t get wet, unless you reach in the central open air area where the water is sprayed every 12 minutes. The porcupine and mouse deer don’t seem to mind. Other features include the video theater, reptiles, bats, amphibians, spiders, insects and small primates. A neat discovery station has large, sliding, magnifying glasses allowing people to follow along with ants as they tunnel through tubes that make up their habitat.

The “wow” factor is the croc exhibit. The sunken access allows visitors an up-close and personal view as if you were under water with the large gharial croc swimming back and forth within arms’ reach. Perhaps an even bigger “WOW” factor is the rapidly changing counter showing how many acres of rainforest are disappearing every second and how many human beings are added to the world population every second as you exit.

Miscellaneous stops include the Amazon Café and Marketplace (gift shop).

Once you leave the gift shop area and head back to the entrance, you’ll be captivated by the waterfall again but look back and you’ll be glad you did. There is a picturesque stone totem with spirit faces that may make for a nice photo opp to commemorate your visit to Cleveland’s RainForest.

For hours, admissions, directions and other visitor information, click here.

By Frank R. Satullo, The OhioTraveler