If you’re looking to adventure beyond the zoo grounds, there’s a surprise waiting for you. Just about two hours from Portland, The Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center in Ranier is a unique animal sanctuary and home to lemurs, spider monkeys, sloths and other creatures. Read on for details about how your kids can encounter—and maybe kiss-—a sloth.

Slothphoto: Sloth Ambassador via Yelp

Front & Center
At this oasis, the animals come first. In fact, only a small percentage of the animal residents of the center are actually seen by the public. Those that are chosen as animal ambassadors are behaved and not stressed around humans. Kids will love meeting these animals up close, because the sanctuary strives to make every experience for visitors interactive and educational.

To visit, you must book an appointment ahead of time, and when doing you’ll choose an encounter. Groups are kept small, whether you jump on a regularly-scheduled encounter, or  book a private session.

There’s a Carnivore Encounter, where you can meet a bobcat, serval, caracal, lynx or grey wolf. With the Primate Encounter, you might feed a tamarin, owl monkey, spider monkey or colobus.

African Servalphoto: African Serval by Sonja Pauen via flickr

I Kissed a Sloth & I Liked It
Visit these delicate and lovable creatures in the Sloth Feed or Sloth Sleepover Encounters. In the Sloth Feed, your family will get up close and personal with the sloths. Anyone who’s 60 inches tall will be able to feed the sloths, but shorter folks will have to watch. (No lifting or jumping for safety reasons.) Sloth holding is not allowed. In the Sloth Sleepovers, your family can (very quietly) spend the night dozing and hanging out with the residents. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes with bonus visits with other animals: monkeys, penguins and/or lemurs.

For either sloth encounter, add on a “I Kissed a Sloth…and I Liked It” package to get a t-shirt with that slogan emblazoned on the front, and a picture of the sloth lover in your family planting a smacker on a sloth.

slothphoto: Pierre Pouliquin via flickr 

Know Before You Go
Read the rules on the website carefully, because they aren’t messing around! You’ll need to be quiet, respectful and wear clothes that can be “completely ruined.” If you’re visiting the sloths, dress in layers, because they live in a warm environment. Height, weight and age restrictions apply to some of the animal encounters but children are welcome at most encounters as long as they are able to speak in whisper voices and keep calm around the animals. This is not a zoo, and not a place where you wander and look. It’s an intimate encounter with delicate and endangered species. Keep in mind that you might need to book ahead of time; for more popular tours and times of the year, a couple of months will be safe, and it doesn’t hurt. Other times, you might be able to book with less than a week’s notice. But if it’s for a special event,  be sure to book ahead.

Getting There
Rainier is just across the river from Longview, Washington. Allow about an hour and a half to two hours. You can take I-5 up through Longview, or take Highway 30 up all the way through Scappoose and St. Helens. Stopping for dinner on the way back in St. Helens gives you plenty of options for dinner, as well ice cream and a park along the river.

The Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center
74320 Larson Rd.
Rainier, Or

Online: chasing-tail.com

What’s your family’s favorite animal? Let us know in the Comments!

—Kelley Gardiner