Whether it’s watching swallows catch insects in the meadows in Sharon, escaping the heat to ponder artwork in Canton, or enjoying a picnic along the North River in Marshfield, the Massachusetts Audubon Society has a variety of attractions for families this summer.
To help visitors plan a weekend getaway or a day trip to one of its 50 wildlife sanctuaries, the nonprofit created an online “Vacation Guide.” And while Mass Audubon is known for its nature trails and bird programs, many of the sanctuaries cater to children and families, too.
“We wanted to collect in one place all that is going on in Massachusetts this summer to make it easy so if people are staycationing in Massachusetts, they can go to one easy spot,’’ said Kathy Sferra, the south region director for Mass Audubon. “There is always something going on.’’
The online guide offers something for everyone in the family, or for friends, couples, and nature lovers of all ages and backgrounds, Sferra said. The guide will help visitors connect with nature by highlighting children’s programs, guided hikes, birding classes, and on-water excursions. It lists sanctuaries by geographic regions and includes headings such as “Explore,” “Kids’ Camps,” “Go Birding,” and “Play in Nature.”
Sferra said all the information has been on the organization’s website for some time, but now it’s more organized and easy to find by either activity or geographic location. The fees for the programs vary, and are different for Mass Audubon members and nonmembers.
“We have educators who are super at working with the kids,’’ she said. “We try to make nature fun. Programs are very hands-on.’’
Sferra said the guide will help local families who are vacationing closer to home as well as visitors exploring the Bay State. With sanctuaries throughout Massachusetts from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and the Islands, there are programs and activities close to home or a drive away, she said.
“We’ve seen more and more that families can’t afford the big vacation and are looking to do day trips,’’ she said. “There are a lot of sanctuaries within a short distance.’’
South of Boston, there are seven Mass Audubon properties, including five wildlife sanctuaries — Moose Hill in Sharon, North River and Daniel Webster in Marshfield, North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, and Great Neck in Wareham — as well as the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, and the Mass Audubon Visual Arts Center in Canton.
The Visual Arts Center is a professional museum that houses Mass Audubon’s extensive collection and hosts a variety of hands-on art classes.
“No one expects to find us, which makes it a little bit of a challenge, but when they do, they are delighted,’’ said the center’s director, Amy Montague.
The museum is featuring “Private Passions: The Art of Collecting,” an exhibition showcasing works owned by 14 individuals as well as a local fishing club. The property also has 124 acres of trails, but its indoor displays make it appealing to visit in sweltering heat or downpours, said Montague.
At the North River sanctuary in Marshfield, there is a trail that leads down to one of the state’s few designated scenic rivers, said Sue MacCallum, director of Mass Audubon’s South Shore sanctuaries, which include Daniel Webster and North Hill Marsh.
MacCallum said there is an activity area at the North River sanctuary this summer that focuses on the types of things you would find along the beach. On Saturdays, the sanctuary hosts walks on Duxbury Beach where families can look for birds and horseshoe crabs. “We’re not a quiet sanctuary, a don’t-touch-anything kind of place,’’ she said. “We want kids and adults to get out there, explore, and get excited.’’
The activity area at North River is a room off the sanctuary’s main reception building where youngsters may learn more about nature; it includes stools and binoculars near windows so visitors can see what’s outside, story books, floor puzzles, magnifying glasses, and a bin on birds and bird calls. “It’s an exploratory, discovery area for kids to poke around,’’ MacCallum said.
At the Daniel Webster site in Marshfield, glassed-in observation buildings along the main trail allow visitors to see green herons, turtles, and frogs up close without disturbing them, she said.
Mass Audubon also offers overnight trips at some of its sanctuaries. North of Boston, visitors can camp overnight on Perkins Island, a mile paddle from the Ipswich River’s sanctuary landing. Also, Mass Audubon members can rent a cabin at Ipswich River, or camp in Wellfleet on Cape Cod.
Sanctuaries on the North Shore and on the Cape also offer marine cruises where visitors take a boat ride to learn about the ocean’s ecosystem.
Bob Prescott, director of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said its marine cruises are among its most popular programs. The sanctuary offers 2½-hour cruises on Wellfleet Bay and Nauset Marsh.
On the bay cruise, naturalists use a plankton net, scallop drag, otter trawl, and fish pots to bring up creatures for passengers to see and touch.
“By the time the program is over, we may have 100 specimens on board; they’ll learn about the ecology of the harbor, the history of the harbor, and water quality issues,’’ Prescott said.
On the marsh cruise, sightseers look for ospreys, great blue herons, terns, willets, oystercatchers, and plovers.
For those who would like to explore on land, Prescott said, the Wellfleet sanctuary offers a Seashore Ramble, on which families can walk the tidal flats and search for crabs, turtles, and fish. The walk will go through five Cape Cod habitats.
“It’s fun for parents and kids to get to handle specimens,’’ Prescott said. “Those are really a lot of fun.’’
A link to the vacation guide can be found at www.massaudubon.org.