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10 good reasons to let the kids stay up past their bedtime

The Mendon Twin Drive-in is open nightly from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The Mendon Twin Drive-in is open nightly from Memorial Day to Labor Day.Mendon Twin Drive-In

Fun childhood memory: our parents hauling us to a drive-in movie, clad in our jammies, and setting us loose on the swing set during the previews. That, and a fistful of Mike and Ikes from the snack bar, and we were over the moon. To pay homage to warm summer nights, we’ve sleuthed out some cool family adventures that take place after dark. Here’s a look.

Goodnight moon

There’s kayaking (nice), and then there’s kayaking under a full moon (magical). If you’re heading to Martha’s Vineyard this summer, consider joining the folks at Island Spirit Kayak for a guided full moon kayak paddle on a local pond or harbor. You’ll head out before sunset and play “kayak ultimate Frisbee” and hunt for scallops and quahogs as you go. After a beach stop for some cheese, fruit, and cookies, you’ll paddle back under the stars. The rising moon — and glow sticks — will illuminate your (wondrous) journey. No full moon? Take a sunset tour. Bioluminescent organisms add sparkle to the paddle in late July and August. Adults $75, ages 5-12 $55; www.islandspiritkayak.com. Trip dates: June 19, 20, 21; July 18, 19, 20; Aug. 17, 18, 19; Sept. 15, 16, 17.

Magnificent Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the four best places in the country for stargazing, according to National Geographic magazine, thanks to low levels of light pollution. Experience it for yourself on a nighttime kayak tour of the bays surrounding Acadia. Two-plus-hour kayak tours by outfitter Acadia Park Kayak include use of stargazing gear. Age 10 and up; $55 per person; www.acadiaparkkayak.com.


Creatures of the night

“Hey, kids, let’s take a walk in the woods after dark!” Sounds like the setup for a scary movie, unless you’re on an evening wildlife prowl. Offered by groups like the Trustees of Reservations and the Audubon chapters, these events are a fun way to get acquainted with the critters and crawly things that liven up the nighttime. For example, on the Trustees’ Friday for Fireflies night hike at the Crane Reservation in Ipswich, you’ll visit a pine grove to look for flashing fireflies, and then commune with the bioluminescent bugs while eating s’mores around a campfire. Dates are July 15 and 22; Trustees members, $9 adults and $6 kids; nonmembers, $15/$10; www.thetrustees.org.


Owls are the theme at Mass Audubon’s Family Camp Out (Aug. 6) at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. You bring the tent (and the kids, ages 4-14) and they do the rest. Activities include nighttime owl walks, roasting marshmallows around a campfire, and storytelling. In the morning, there’s the ever-popular dissecting of the owl pellets to see what owls eat. Members, $25 adults, $22 children; nonmembers, $30/$26. www.massaudubon.org.

In spite of their jumbo size, moose aren’t easy to find. Ergo, moose-watching safaris. MWV Moose Tours, out of North Conway, N.H., claims a 96 percent success rate in seeing moose last year. Its tours last 3.5 hours and start at 8 p.m. in high season — prime time for moose spotting. There’s music, moose videos, and slide shows to keep things moving as the bus heads to the moose-iest hot spots. Adults $35; under age 13, $19; family discounts are available. www.mwvmoosetours.com.

Combine a twilight boat trip with a cool natural spectacle and you’ve got the Tree Swallow Sunset Cruise on the lower Connecticut River. Launching from Haddam, Conn., the 64-foot RiverQuest riverboat departs just before sunset, timed to see a feathery phenomenon of as many as half a million birds — mostly tree swallows — converge on their favored roosting island. Totally cool — just try not to think about a certain Hitchcock film. The three-hour cruises operate from late August through September; age 12  and up, $40 per person; www.ctriverquest.com.


Music under the stars

Everyone’s down for a good time at the Jackson Gore Summer Music Series, held at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt. It’s hard to beat an outdoor concert with a mountain backdrop, especially when it’s free. The series brings music to the mountains — rom folk to funk to Beatles tribute bands — and dancing in the dark is always a blast. Wear that glow necklace as a headband. As many as 900 people show up with lawn chairs and picnic baskets to hear music under the stars (that setting!) and dig into barbecue. www.okemo.com.

WaterFire, the multi-sensory art installation at Waterplace Park in Providence, is credited with helping spark the revitalization of the city’s waterfront. The first brazier was lit in 1994, but this bonfires-on-the-water extravaganza keeps growing, and is quite a spectacle. Music (chosen by WaterFire’s creator, Barnaby Evans) enhances the ritual, which begins at sunset. The soundtrack changes with each performance; the musical program (and schedule of lightings) is posted on WaterFire’s website, www.waterfire.org.

Bedtime stories

After a Family Fun Night at the Amoskeag Fishways Learning and Visitors Center in Manchester, N.H., kids will be happily exhausted and smelling of wood smoke. Families gather on the banks of the Merrimack River to hear Native American tales in a spot where the Penacook tribe once lived. Crafts and activities with an earth-friendly focus are part of the evening. Aug. 5 (similar programs are offered by NH Audubon on other dates); $8 per family; www.nhaudubon.org.


Whether you’re channeling your own childhood or Richie Cunningham’s, nothing says classic summer fun like a drive-in movie. The Mendon Twin Drive-In in Mendon, opened in 1954, has upgraded from the squeaky speaker boxes of yore (the audio is broadcast through your car radio now), but it’s still retro fun. Now owned by the Andelman brothers of Phantom Gourmet fame, the Mendon Twin runs movies on two screens (count on family flicks like “The Jungle Book” and “Zootopia”), and serves fresh popcorn and Richie’s Slush. Nightly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, $27 per carload; www.mendondrivein.com.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@

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