Skip to Content

Swamp Cabbage Fest marks 58 years Feb. 24-25, 2024

Sharing

Last updated on July 5th, 2024 at 09:24 am

For 58 years, this authentic Florida town east of Fort Myers has been celebrating swamp cabbage in a down-home festival and parade.

The LaBelle 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 Armadillos get some encouragement to head down the track at the start of the Armadillo Race during the Swamp Cabbage Festival in LaBelle. Photo by Peter W. Cross.
The armadillos get some encouragement to head down the track at the start of the Armadillo Race during the Swamp Cabbage Festival in LaBelle. Photo by Peter W. Cross.

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

Festival organizers expect 30,000 people over the weekend. In the last few years, it has added beer tents and the Budweiser Clydesdales horses will be in the parade.

swamp cabbage festival sign
Sign on main street in town

 

Swamp Cabbage Festival

Saturday

  • 8 a.m. – Car Show Registrations (Lee Street)
  • 10 a.m. – Parade (Band stand, Bridge Street)
  • 11:30 a.m. – Opening Ceremony (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 11:45 a.m. – Sheriff’s Posse (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 12:45 p.m. – Matrasa Lynn (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 1:45 p.m. – Queen/Princess Introduction (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 2 p.m. – Unforgiven Band (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 3 p.m. – Eli Mosley (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 4:30 p.m. – The Bourbon Brothers (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 6 p.m. – Rodeo (LaBelle Rodeo grounds)
  • Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo is held Friday and Saturday evenings. 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.

Sunday

  • Safelight – Bass Tournament (LaBelle Boat Docks)
  • 9:30 a.m. – James Holland and Worship (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 11 a.m. – Lester Beleau (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • Noon – Little Miss & Junior Miss Introduction (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 12:15 p.m. – Charlie Pace (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 1:45 p.m. – The Walker Experience (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 2:45 p.m. – Matrasa Lynn (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 4 p.m. – Park Closes
swamp cabbage festival LaBelle Swamp Cabbage festival pete cross 2 Swamp Cabbage Fest marks 58 years Feb. 24-25, 2024
And they’re off! The armadillos at the start of the Armadillo Race during the Swamp Cabbage Festival in LaBelle. Photo by Peter W. Cross.

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

The armadillo races, managed by the Rotary Club to raise money for scholarships, occur at intervals throughout the festival.

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

Historic LaBelle, home of the Swamp Cabbage Festival

 

Forrey Grill in historic LaBelle downtown
Forrey Grill in historic LaBelle downtown. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Historic district sign in LaBell, homw of the Swamp Cabbage Festival
Historic district sign in LaBelle

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 below).

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

Places to explore near LaBelle and Fort Myers

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.”

Comments Welcome

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.