My 7-year-old son loves nature. He would live in a tent if I let him. Thankfully, Greater Boston abounds with nature centers to satisfy the most curious and indelibly-grass-stained child, from working farms selling homemade ice cream to wildlife preserves with canoe trails and an island campground. Here are some nature-kid-approved spots to explore this fall, all within about 25 miles of Boston.
MASSACHUSETTS AUDUBON’S DRUMLIN FARM, Lincoln Not only can kids explore a working farm, ride a hay wagon, climb inside a tent of beans, test their weight versus a piglet, and learn how eggs are graded, they also can learn firsthand what a drumlin is. Don’t know yourself? Neither did I. A drumlin is an elongated hill in the shape of a half-buried egg, and the Drumlin Trail brings you to one of the highest spots in Greater Boston. The farm offers a Discover Drumlin Activities series for families, free with admission, every weekend year-round and weekdays from April 16-Oct. 31. The farm is closed Mondays, except on federal holidays. The series includes October Harvest Weekends, celebrating fall on the farm. Pick your own pumpkins (Oct. 6-8) and pick your own potatoes (Oct. 13-14) are fun, get-your-hands-dirty family outings. Upcoming activities include a Friday Evening Hayride and Campfire (Sept. 14); Morning Chores, where neophyte farmers help feed the animals, clean out stalls, and prepare and eat a hearty farmer’s breakfast (Sept. 22, 8-10 a.m.), and Tales of the Night, where visitors can wander through the slightly spooky farm, take a haunted hayride, and visit the nursery rhyme trail (Oct. 25-26). 208 South Great Road, 781-259-2200, www.massaudubon.org/drum
lin, Mass Audubon members free, nonmember adults $7, seniors and children ages 2-12 $5
SOUTH SHORE NATURAL SCIENCE CENTER, Norwell The center is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a two-day Corn Festival (Sept. 22-23). The nonprofit, which banded together with the YMCA last year, is dedicated to educating the public about the natural and cultural environments of the area. The onsight EcoZone Museum is a big draw for the sippy-cup set, with Creature Corner teeming with local species including an albino black rat snake, Eastern box turtle, spotted salamanders, and wood frogs. A beloved barred owl named Hedwig is used in educational programs to focus on the conservation and protection of local animal species. Family programs abound, from the Saturday afternoon Meet an Animal naturalist-led sessions, featuring a different animal each week, to biweekly Feed the Animals sessions. The Wednesday morning (9:30-10:45) Parents & Tots program explores the outdoors and seasonal changes, while Tales From the Wild, a nature-themed story hour, runs year-round on Fridays from 10:30-11:30 a.m. 48 Jacobs Lane, 781-659-2559, www.ssnsc.org, adults $7, seniors $5, 2-15 $3, under 2 free. Free admission to Vine Hall Art Gallery, the gift shop, and trails.
WORLD’S END RESERVATION, Hingham Managed by the Trustees of Reservations, World’s End juts into Hingham Harbor and has all the elements of a perfect family nature excursion: panoramic views of the Boston skyline and surrounding towns; 4½ miles of tree-lined carriage trails designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for hiking or mountain biking; egrets, red-winged blackbirds, bobolinks, and warblers soaring overhead and alighting in the forest for budding birders to spot; and a shoreline just waiting to be picked over by eager shell collectors. Don’t forget a picnic, sunscreen, and a camera. And while you’re there, you can use this as a teaching point for future preservationists: In 1890 this peninsula was slated for a 163-home subdivision, in 1945 it was short-listed as a site for the United Nations, and in the 1960s it was considered for a nuclear power plant, until it was acquired by the Trustees of Reservations in 1967 and became part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area in 1996. Now that is a lesson you have to see, smell, and experience to fully grasp. Martin’s Lane, 781-740-7233, www.thet
ml, Trustees members and children free, nonmember adults $6.
MASSACHUSETTS AUDUBON’S IPSWICH RIVER WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, Topsfield The sanctuary has over 10 miles of glaciated trails for exploring its forests, meadows, and wetlands. Families can canoe along eight miles of the Ipswich River that run through the sanctuary, and camp on Perkins Island, located a half-mile upriver (members can rent canoes from May through October). Families will have a blast on a hike to the Rockery, a man-made maze of enormous boulders that kids love to climb over, crawl under, and spelunk through. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic overlooking Rockery Pond. For less mobile families, the 700-foot boardwalk with an interpretive trail brings you through a cool quacking bog. Seasonal programs for kids and tots are extensive and include Backpack Babies (starting Sept. 14), Sense of Wonder Walks (age 3 and up), and a late summer ice cream paddle (Sept. 18, ages 6 and up). Other seasonal happenings include a kid-friendly spooky guided walk during Halloween Happenings (Oct. 26-27) and a naturalist-led Big Woods Hike on Nov. 18 (children 5 and over with families). 87 Perkins Row, 978-887-9264, www.massaudubon.org/ipswichriver, Mass Audubon members free, nonmember adults $4, nonmember children (2-12) and seniors $3
GREAT BROOK FARM STATE PARK, Carlisle The farm offers more than 20 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers through corn fields, past vernal ponds, and through thick, rolling woods. Back at the barn, Holsteins (separated by age) are kept company by goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, and ducks, all of whom kids can feed. The farm stand offers drinks, hot dogs, and an assortment of ice cream, from graham central station to salted caramel chocolate pretzel, the perfect treat after hiking the two-mile Pine Point Loop. The free tour on weekends (through Columbus Day) features a peek at the robotic milking system at the farm, the first of its kind in Massachusetts. Kids will learn all sorts of facts, like how many gallons an average cow produces in a day (6-14) and how much a Holstein eats daily (a staggering 115 pounds of food). Sept. 23 is the annual Down on the Farm day (free admission and parking), with a country band, old school sack races, hayrides, pin the tail on the cow, pony rides, and the ever-popular name the new calf contest. 984 Lowell St., 978 369-6312, www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/northeast/gbfm.htm, parking $2
THE GARDEN IN THE WOODS, Framingham This is a hidden gem for families to explore. From the wetlands teeming with turtles and frogs to the Idea Garden where you can learn about edible plants and roof gardens, kids will have so much fun they’ll forget they are learning. Don’t forget to pick up a scavenger hunt sheet in the Garden Shop, with easier hunts for the younger set and more difficult clues for blossoming botanists. The upcoming Rock and Roll Class (Oct. 10) invites youngsters to choose rocks from the garden, clean them in the rock cleaner, and watch them become shiny and smooth, while teaching how rocks are classified and what you can discover by smashing rocks open. The Full Moon Night Hike (Nov. 29) promises bewitching nocturnal discoveries under the Beaver Moon. 180 Hemenway Road, 508-877-7630, www.newengland
wild.org/visit/Garden-in-the-Woods, $10 (ages 18-64), $7 (65 and up), $5 (3-17), under 3 and members free