Festivals / Southwest Florida

Swamp Cabbage Fest marks 51 years, Feb. 25-26, 2017

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

LaBelle — For 51 years, this authentic Florida town east of Fort Myers has been celebrating swamp cabbage in a down-home festival and parade.

The Swamp Cabbage Festival takes place every year on the last weekend in February.

Swamp cabbage — it’s called hearts of palm when you pay $10 for it in a fancy restaurant — comes from the state tree, the sabal or cabbage palm.

The festival is the sort of small-town extravaganza where teen-age girls vie in a beauty pageant, the high school band plays “Louie Louie” in the parade, and folks debate whether the big entertainment is the rodeo or the armadillo races.

2017 LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival

swamp cabbage festival signThe festival is free and fills the city’s waterfront Barron Park,  North State Road 29 at the Caloosahatchee River.

This is the schedule from 2016; it will be updated with 2017 information when available:

  •  Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Parade travels north on Bridge Street from Cowboy Way to Barron Park.
  • Florida Car Club Classic Car Show on Fort Thompson Avenue in downtown LaBelle with classic American muscle cars and other noteworthy vehicles from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
  • Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, and 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. It’s $10 for adults; kids under 10 are free. This takes place at the rodeo grounds on State Road 29.  The rodeo features homegrown Florida cowboys and cowgirls and is a qualifying event for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association state championships in Kissimmee.
Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016

Swamp Cabbage Festival Parade

Swamp Cabbage Festival Parade

11:30 a.m. – Opening Prayer and National Anthem

11:45 a.m. -Queen/Princess introduction and performance

12:00 p.m.- Lester Beleau Band

1:10 p.m. Introduction of the Pioneers and Grand Marshal

1:20 p.m. Country Rhythm Cloggers

2:15 p.m.- Shannon Reed Band

3:30 p.m.- Showtime Cloggers

4:35 p.m.- Infield

9 p.m. – 1 a.m. – Country Western Dance sponsored by the Hendry County CattleWomen’s Association, LaBelle Civic Center, 481 W. Hickpochee Ave. (SR 80)/ Admission $20.

Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016

9:00 a.m.- Dave Randant

10:00 a.m.- Press On

10:45 a.m.-Posse Band

11:30 a.m.- The Dance Company

12:35 p.m. – Queen/Princess introduction and performance

1:15 p.m. -Lynette White

2:15 p.m.- 64 to Grayson

3:15 p.m.- Infield

Here’s more information on the Swamp Cabbage Festival website.

If you love armadillos, you’ll get 15 seconds of fun from this armadillo “dancing.”

Historic LaBelle

Forrey Grill in historic bilding downtown

Forrey Grill in historic bilding downtown

LaBelle historic district sign

LaBelle historic district sign

LaBelle started as a town located right on the main drag, the Caloosahatchee River, because at the turn to 19th Century, rivers were the highways of Florida. The region was populated by cattle and citrus farmers and in 1895, landowner Captain Francis Hendry platted the town that would become the seat of the county named after him.

While a 1928 fire destroyed many of the original buildings, a few remain and the historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town, however, is now in a decidedly out of the way location and its historic downtown is a work in progress.

We had a terrific lunch in a beautifully restored downtown cafe called the Forrey Grill, with a tasty blackened grilled chicken on a croissant sandwich and fresh crunchy homemade potato chips.

We’ve also enjoyed excellent barbecue at Log Cabin BBQ, 480 W Hickpochee Ave. You’ll want to stop here after reading all the reviews on Yelp. The free soup was especially good. (Yup, free soup for everyone.)

Where is LaBelle?

Labelle is 28 miles east of Fort Myers on State Road 80, also known as Palm Beach Boulevard. If you are coming from the east coast, Labelle is 98 miles west of West Palm Beach on State Road 80. And if you are travelling south from the Orlando area, take U.S. 27 south for 74 miles to Palmdale, where you pick up County Road 29 for the final 14 miles to Labelle. (See map above).

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Find a room near LaBelle

Port LaBelle Inn, LaBelle

Hotels near La Belle

Find a campground near LaBelle

Whisper Creek RV Resort, Labelle

The Glades RV Resort, Labelle

Upriver RV Resort, Fort Myers

Seminole Campground, Fort Myers

Check out this light-hearted documentary video about the festival:

NOTE: Florida Rambler is not associated with the festival nor do we sell or know where you can buy swamp cabbage, although you can find it in many supermarkets labelled “Hearts of Palm.”



  1. Janet Fahnestock says:

    Paradise Ice 600 + Flavors and Flavor Combos would love to be a part of the Swamp Cabbage Festival we kick back 25%

  2. Hello, I am thinking about visiting your town this upcoming weekend, but I am a little confuse about where the armadillo race takes place. How much does it cost to go to watch the armadillo race? also, is the rodeo close by the armadillo race? how much is it to watch the fishing tournament? It says $100 per team, however, I do not want to compete. I just want to watch the tournament. Thanks!

    • The armadillo races take place at the festival site throughout the weekend. There are about 20 races in all. They are very similar to the pig races you see at county fairs. There is not usually a charge to watch them.

      The rodeo is held at the rodeo grounds on U.S. 29 in Labelle. Both nights. Admission is $10.

      The fishing tournament is a participant sport, not a spectator sport. There’s nothing to see except the start and the weigh-in at the end of the day. The fishermen disappear in their boats and speed off to their favorite fishing holes. They don’t want you to watch or know where those fishing holes are located.

  3. Patricia Myers says:

    how do I get rid of the ads which cover half the article on my iPad?

    • turn the iPad vertical to see if that helps. We are looking into the issue. The ads are supposed to adjust, or move themselves to the bottom of the text. but they don’t always do that on tablets, particularly the iPad. sorry you’re having trouble with this.

    fb https://www.facebook.com/pages/Palm-Pines-RV-Park/119248004804461?ref=br_tf AND GENERAL WESITE IS http://www.palmandpinesrvpark.com/

    If you love bird watching and taking pictures of birds you will love this park. You will find bird feeding stations throughout the park.

  5. Gil Sullivan says:

    I would like vendor info. 7th generation Floridian. I cook Florida food.

  6. Pingback: Everglades Seafood Festival 2012: Feb. 3, 4 and 5 | Florida Rambler

  7. ann bland says:

    I am trying to locate a source from which I can purchase swamp cabbage and have it shipped. Any information would be appreciated. Thanks

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