The Massachusetts Audubon Society is offering a variety of outdoor activities for families this summer, with programs that include hayrides and campfires, ice cream and fireflies, canoes and pontoon boats.
To help local families and visitors to the state plan a weekend getaway or a day trip to one of its 50 wildlife sanctuaries, Mass Audubon has created a new online vacation guide.
“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, a regional director for the nonprofit organization. “There is always something going on.’’
While Mass Audubon is known for its nature trails and bird programs, many of its sanctuaries cater to children and families, offering programs such as canoe trips along the Charles River, ocean exploration on Cape Cod, and gardening in Lincoln.
“We have educators who are super at working with the kids,’’ Sferra said. “We try to make nature fun. Programs are very hands-on.’’
The vacation guide offers something for every member of the family, as well as for friends, couples, and nature lovers of all ages and backgrounds, Sferra said. The guide will help visitors connect with nature by highlighting programs for youngsters, guided hikes, birding classes and on-water excursions. The guide 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 its website, but now it’s more organized and easy to sort, by either activity or geographic location. Fees for the programs vary, and are different for members and nonmembers.
Sferra said the guide will help those families who are continuing the trend of vacationing closer to home as well as those visiting the Bay State. With sanctuaries throughout Massachusetts from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and the Islands, there are programs in every corner of the state, 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.’’
Mass Audubon is headquartered in Lincoln, where it also operates the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, a working farm with livestock, native wildlife, and trails; its other area properties include sites in Belmont, Hopkinton, Natick, and Norfolk.
The Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Hopkinton features a secluded pond and trails. On Belmont Hill, just 6 miles from downtown Boston, is the Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, a 93-acre property that includes 2.5 miles of trails and a visitors center that offers monthly art shows.
The Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk covers 86 acres and has an extensive boardwalk system, which allows visitors to follow along the edge of Teal Marsh for a view of turtles, fish, muskrats, and great blue herons. In the summer, the butterfly garden by the nature center is active.
The Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick features 854 acres with 9 miles of walking trails through fields, woodlands, and wetland habitats. It also holds a variety of hands-on activities for families, said sanctuary director Elissa Landre.
“There’s something new every day and minute,’’ she said. “It’s not a static environment. All you have to do is bring your sense of wonder.’’
During the summer, Broadmoor offers ice cream with exploration programs on frogs, fireflies, or bats.
“It’s a fun evening for a family to come out after supper,’’ Landre said. “We take a walk on the sanctuary to look for critters. We learn a little bit about the natural history of those critters of the night.’’
Broadmoor also offers canoe trips along the Charles River. The sanctuary provides the canoes, paddles, life jackets, and a guide. Some trips are held in the morning, others at dusk. Landre said they can also do custom trips for a group.
“We have different focuses depending on when we go but we look at all that’s around us,’’ Landre said. “A boat is a very special way to explore because you can often get closer to things.’’
Mass Audubon houses an extensive art collection at its Visual Arts Center in Canton, where this summer’s attractions include “Private Passions: The Art of Collecting,” a show featuring the collections of 14 individuals as well as a local fishing club.
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 to see and touch.
“By the time the program is over, we may have 100 specimens on board,’’ Prescott said, allowing visitors to learn “about the ecology of the harbor, the history of the harbor, and water quality issues.’’
On the marsh cruise, sightseers look for ospreys, great blue herons, terns, willets, oystercatchers, and plovers.
For those who would like to explore the seashore from land, Prescott said, the sanctuary offers a Seashore Ramble, where 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.’’