Big Cat Party | Fourth Annual Florida Panther Festival

Florida Panther - Floirda Panther Festival - Everglades National Park

Calling all Florida nature lovers and conservationists: the fourth annual Florida Panther Festival, set for November 15-16 at North Collier Regional Park, aims to help raise awareness for one of the most endangered species in the country.

   The Florida panther, long an apex predator whose historic territory once incorporated all of the southeast, has seen its numbers diminish to near extinction, largely because of habitat loss caused by development. Now relegated to the Sunshine State’s primordial swamp and flatlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that population ranges between just 100 to 180 adults, with a range largely relegated to south of the Caloosahatchee River (locally in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park). The population is so at risk that nearly every major threat— diminishing breeding populations, encroaching and overlapping territories, and human impacts like road fatalities and continued land development—the fate of the Florida panther is precarious at best. Which is why awareness campaigns like the Florida Panther Festival are so important to getting the word out.

   The festival’s goal is to educate residents and visitors about the Florida panther and management needs of the big cat, as well as to increase awareness for the maintenance and protection of the its habitat. Held at North Collier Regional Park, Saturday, November 15 is filled with kid-friendly activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., all free of charge. Live entertainment by Darrell House (10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) and Raiford Starke (1:30-3:30 p.m.) will take the stage, while local food vendors, and arts and crafts from local artisans will be on hand for adults. For the adventurous, Sunday, November 16, is filled with an array of eco-adventures and field trips designed to educate and entertain while taking people deep into panther country.

  • For a roundup of Saturday’s kid-friendly activities, click here.
  • For Sunday’s lineup of eco-adventures, click here.

Cypress Swamp - Big Cypress Preserve


CREW “Passport to Panthers” Guided Walk

Join a CREW staff member for a three-hour guided tour through the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed’s Marsh Trails, exploring panther habitat and learning the importance of the ecosystem for both panther and human.

  • The hike runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Limited to 20 people.
  • Admission costs $10 per person.
  • For questions, call 239-657-2253; to register, click here.

Florida Panther - Florida Pantehr National Wildlife Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve Bear Island Panther Bike Ride

Grab the two-wheeler and pedal through 14 miles of the elusive cat’s home range on a ranger-guided bike ride through Big Cypress National Preserve‘s Bear Island. The tour includes several stops at strategic spots to look for signs of panther tracks and activity while learning about the habitat and Preserve research activities.

  • The bike ride runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Limited to 15 people, 12 years and up.
  • The ride costs $10; attendees must bring their own bike.
  • For questions, call 239-695-1164; to register click here


Tour & History of Picayune Strand State Forest

Join Florida Forest Service members as they discuss the works under way in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP). Visitors will observe the work on the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, a CERP project designed to restore the natural flow of water to the bays of the Ten Thousand Islands area. Along the way, visitors will learn about the importance of the habitat for Florida panthers, the goal of CERP and, depending on water level, a short hike to see some of forest’s old cypress trees.

  • The tour runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Limited to 12 people.
  • Admission costs $10 per person.
  • To register, click here.


Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Buggy Tour & Hike

This in-the-field morning takes visitors on both a hike and on a swamp buggy tour of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, brining guests deeper into panther territory than most have ever ventured. Hikers will join a refuge biologist on a 90-minute hike to learn about the panther management and research projects taking place in the preserve while exploring the panther’s home range.

   For a horsepower expedition into the swamp, visitors will load up in swamp buggies for a 90-minute tour of the preserve. This not only will allow for participants to explore deep into the preserve, it’s really fun to boot.

  • The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Buggy Tour & Hike runs from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Limited to 25 people.
  • Admission costs $20 per person.
  • To register, click here.
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge - Photo by Josh O'Connor, USFWS

Sunrise at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by Josh O’Conner, USFWS

Everglade’s Edge Bicycle Adventure in the Picayune Strand State Forest

Take an eco tour of Picayune Strand State Forest. Attendees will take to the largest project in the CERP portfolio by bike on a two-hour tour.

  • Tour times are 9:15 a.m-12 noon; 1:45-4:30 p.m.
  • Limited to six to eight people per tour.
  • Admission is $45 per person.
  • For more information and to register, call Wes Wilkins at 239-280-8837.


Captain Steve’s Big Cypress Swamp Buggy Adventure

Cruise the Big Cypress National Preserve aboard a swamp buggy with fifth-generation “Gladesman” Captain Steve. The three- to four-hour tour takes guests deep into the preserve on all-terrain buggies, bringing riders up-close and personal with the landscape and ecosystem. Keep the eyes peeled for birds of all feathers, alligators, black bears, deer and more.

  • Tour times are 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; 2-6 p.m.
  • Limited to six people per tour.
  • Admission costs $75 per person.
  • To register, click here.


Orange Jeep Eco-Adventure Tour

Test the limits of one of the most versatile vehicles on the world, a Jeep, in Collier County’s newest eco-adventure outfit, Orange Jeep Tours. Navigate through protected wetlands, uplands and pine forests in the Camp Keais Strand area. Local outdoorsman Gavin Wuerth will not only point out important environmental facts, but historical points of interests as well, on the 90-minute off-road tour.

  • Tour times are 8-9:30 a.m.; 10-11:30 a.m.; 1-2:30 p.m.; 3-4:30 p.m.; 5-6:30 p.m.
  • Limited to six people per tour.
  • Admission is $15 per person.
  • To register, call 239-434-5337.

Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project

Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Boardwalk & Trail Walk

Join Corkscrew Sanctuary naturalists as they guide hikers through the boardwalk and pine flatwoods, discussing the habitat of the preserve—known Florida panther range.

  • The tour runs from 8:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Limited to 12 people.
  • Admission is $20 per person.
  • To register, call Sally Stein at 239-348-9151, ext. 112.


Babcock Wilderness Adventures “Get Back to Nature” Eco Tour

Load up on the swamp safari converted school bus and cruise the Babcock Ranch and Telegraph Cypress Swamp on a narrated 90-minute tour. Tour highlights include wildlife sightings and a museum that includes artifacts and a history of the Old Florida ranch.

  • Tour times are 10 a.m.; 12 and 2 p.m.
  • Limited to 35 people per tour.
  • Admission costs $20.
  • To register, call 800-500-5583 and tell them you’re ready to “Get back to nature.”


Everglades Day Safari

One of the most in-depth tours of the day, the Everglades Day Safari Adventure takes eco adventurers into the heart of Everglades National Park by airboat, boat, hike and an off-road excursion, exploring primitive Old Florida. The naturalist-led tour starts with a nature walk through a bald cypress strand, followed by a boat cruise into the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove forest in the Everglades National Park. Adventurers will then enjoy a lunch, including some alligator appetizers. Following lunch, the tour continues with a scenic wildlife drive through pine savannahs, ending with an airboat ride through sawgrass prairies for a true taste of Everglades adventure.

  • Admission is $150 per adult, $130 per child (ages 5-11) – includes round-trip transportation from Naples/Fort Myers/Sanibel, and a copy of Wildlife of the Everglades DVD.
  • For times, registration and more information, call 800-472-3069 or visit


Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Ghost Rider Tram Tour

Take a two and a half hour tour of Florida’s largest state park, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Hop aboard the Ghost Tram, named after the famed Ghost Orchid, and explore the forest in ease and comfort. The narrated tour winds guests through the park on safari in search of wildlife.

  • The Ghost Rider Tram Tour runs from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Limited to 22 people.
  • Admission costs $25 per person.
  • To register, click here.

American Alligator - Everglades National Park

Facebook Comments