LaBelle — For 51 years, this authentic Florida town east of Fort Myers has been celebrating swamp cabbage in a down-home festival and parade.
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.
The festival bills itself as “family festival with no alcoholic beverages” and organizers expect 30,000 to 50,000 people over festival weekend.
The festival is free and fills the city’s waterfront Barron Park, North State Road 29 at the Caloosahatchee River.
2017 LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival tentative schedule
- Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Parade travels north on Bridge Street from Cowboy Way to Barron Park.
- South Central Florida Car Show on Fort Thompson Avenue in downtown LaBelle with classic American muscle cars and other noteworthy vehicles starts at 11 a.m. Saturday.
- Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb 25, and noon Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. 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. Details.
Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017
8:30 a.m. River Cruise LaBelle Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
10 a.m. Swamp Cabbage Parade, Bridge Street
10 a.m. Park Activities Begin, Barron Park
11 a.m. South Central Florida Car Show, Fort Thompson Street
11:30 a.m. Opening Prayer / National Anthem, Mitchell Wills and Press On, Barron Park
11:45 p.m. Queen & Princess Intro & Performance, Barron Park
Noon Lester Beleau Band, Barron Park
12:45 p.m. Grand Marshall & Pioneer Family Intros, Barron Park
1 p.m. River Cruise LaBelle Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
1 p.m. Country Rhythm Cloggers, Barron Park
1:30 p.m. Shannon Reed Band, Barron Park
2:15 p.m. Country Rhythm Cloggers, Barron Park
2:30 p.m. Ben Allen Band, Barron Park
3:15 p.m. SCF Raffle, Barron Park
3:30 p.m. Lee Allcorn Band, Barron Park
4:15 p.m. Swamp Cabbage booting demo, Barron Park
5 p.m. Shenandoah, Barron Park
4 p.m. River Cruise LaBelle Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
6 p.m. Hendry County Cattlemen’s Rodeo , LaBelle Rodeo Grounds ($10 admission fee)
9 p.m. Cattlewomen’s Dance , LaBelle Civic Center ($20 admission)
Sunday Feb. 26, 2017
7 a.m. Fishing Tournament, Boat Ramp North Side of River
9 a.m. Gospel Music, Barron Park
9:45 a.m. Prayer Service Non-Denominational, Barron Park Riverfront
10:45 a.m. Press On, Barron Park
11 a.m. River Cruise LaBelle Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
11:30 a.m. Swamp Cabbage Presentation, Barron Park
Noon Hendry County Cattlemen’s Rodeo, LaBelle Rodeo Grounds ($10 admission fee)
12:15 a.m. Queen and Princess Intro & Performances, Barron Park
12:45 a.m. The Dance Company, Barron Park
1:35 a.m. 64 to Grayson Gospel Band, Barron Park
2 p.m. River Cruise LaBelle Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
2:20 a.m. Debbie White’s Cloggers, Barron Park
3:15 p.m. Lee Allcorn Band, Barron Park
3 p.m. Fish Weigh-In, Boat Ramp North Side of River
4 p.m. Entertainment Ends at Barron Park Riverfront
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.”
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).
Places to explore near LaBelle and Fort Myers
- Kayak Telegraph Creek, unspoiled kayak trail 20 minutes from LaBelle
- Six Miles Cypress Slough Preserve
- Fort Myers Beach: Charming seaside getaway
- Lovers Key State Park for manatees, kayaking and beaches
- Mound Key State Archaeology Site
- Cayo Costa State Park: Dreams of a private island
- What makes Sanibel special and nine ways to experience it.
Find a room near LaBelle
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.”