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

LaBelle — For 53 years, this authentic Florida town east of Fort Myers has been celebrating swamp cabbage in a down-home festival and parade.

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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.

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.

2019 LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival tentative schedule

swamp cabbage festival sign

  • Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in front of the Dollar General Market and ends on Bridge Street in front of the Catholic Church.
  • Heritage Boat Tours on Calosahatchee River will be offered both days. Advance tickets are encouraged.
  • Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo is held at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 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.
Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.
Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019

7 a.m. Humane Society’s Swamp Stomp, Farm Credit Plaza
8 a.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
10 a.m. Swamp Cabbage Parade – Park Ave. South down Bridge Street, ends at Catholic Church.
11 a.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum-Barron Park Riverfront
11:30 a.m. Swamp Cabbage – Park Activities Begin, Barron Park
11:30 a.m. Opening Prayer / National Anthem (Abby Green)
11:45 p.m. JJ McCoy, Barron Park
12:40 p.m. Queen & Princess Intro & Performance, Barron Park
12:50 p.m. Grand Marshall & Pioneer Family Intros, Barron Park
12:50 p.m. Parade Award Announced, Barron Park
1 p.m. Showtime Cloggers, Barron Park
1:30 p.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
1:45 p.m. Danzas Folcloricas Latinas , Barron Park
2 p.m. Shannon Reed Band, Barron Park
(North of the River)
2:45 p.m. Museum Boat Ride Raffle, Barron Park
3 p.m. Country Rhythm Cloggers, Barron Park
4 p.m. Swamp Cabbage Band, Barron Park
4 p.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum-Barron Park Riverfront
5:30 p.m. Entertainment ends, Barron Park Closes
7 p.m. Hendry County Cattlemen’s Rodeo-LaBelle Rodeo Grounds
9 p.m. Cattlewomen’s Dance , Shannon Reed Band LaBelle Civic Center (Till 1 a.m.)

Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019    

6:30 a.m. Swamp Cabbage Festival Bass Tournament
Hendry County Boat Ramp (North of the River)
8 a.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
10 a.m. Press On –Barron Park Bandstand
10 a.m. BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) City of Palms Chapter — Starting at Lee Street from Park Ave. South
11 a.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum-Barron Park Riverfront
11 a.m. Walker Experience-Barron Park Bandstand
11:50 a.m. Queen and Princess Intro & Performances – Barron Park
Noon Sugar Lime Blue, Barron Park
1:00 pm Hendry County Cattlemen’s Youth Rodeo-LaBelle Rodeo Grounds
1 p.m. The Dance Company-Barron Park Bandstand
1:30 p.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum, Barron Park Riverfront
2 p.m.pm Hillary Klug (Fiddle/Clogger) – Barron Park
3 p.m. Fishing Tournament Weigh-in – Hendry County Boat Ramp (North of the River)
3 p.m. Christ Central Worship Team – Barron Park
4 p.m. River Cruise Heritage Museum-Barron Park Riverfront
4 p.m.Entertainment ends and Barron Park closes.

Swamp Cabbage Festival Parade
Swamp Cabbage Festival Parade

 

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.

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.”