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 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: 2024 info will updated when available
- Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the foot of the Caloosahatchee Bridge on the corner of Bridge Street (Hwy 29) and Park Ave.
- 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Legends of the Road Super Cruise car show
- 11:30 a.m. – Opening Ceremony (Band stand, Barron Park)
- 11:45 a.m. – Sheriff’s Posse (Band stand, Barron Park)
- 12:45 a.m. – Matrassa 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)
- Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo is held Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday at 10 a.m. It’s $10 for adults; kids under 10 are free. (These are last year’s prices and may change.)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.
- Safelight – Bass Tournament (LaBelle Boat Docks)
- 9:30 a.m. – James Holland and Worship (Band stand, Barron Park)
- 11:00 a.m. – Lester Beleau (Band stand, Barron Park)
- Noon – Queen/Princess 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)
- 02:45 p.m. – Matrassa Lynn (Band stand, Barron Park)
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
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 below).
Places to explore near LaBelle and Fort Myers
- Exploring along the Caloosahatchee: Kayak trails, rustic scenery and small towns
- 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.”
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.