Big Cat Party | Third Annual Florida Panther Festival

Florida Panther - Floirda Panther Festival - Everglades National ParkOne of the most endangered species on the planet lives in our own backyard. The Florida panther, long an apex predator of the Sunshine State’s primordial swamps and flatlands, has seen its numbers diminish to near extinction, largely because of habitat loss caused by development. According to US Fish and Wildlife, the wild population is estimated to be between 100 to 160 adults, with a range 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), a mere speck of its historical range, which stretched northward to as far as South Carolina and Tennessee. With compounded threats of 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.

   But not all is lost. Education is one of the best weapons in the fight for the survival of the Florida panther, a notion not lost on the sponsors of the third annual Florida Panther Festival, a two-day event with a mission to help raise awareness for one of this endangered species. The majestic cat gets its close-up on November 16 and 17 with family-friendly activities promoting coexistence and conservation.

   The festival’s goal is to educate residents and visitors about the Florida panther and management needs of the big cat, and to increase awareness for the maintenance and protection of the its habitat. Held at North Collier Regional Park, Saturday, November 16 is filled with kid-friendly activities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., all free of charge.

Starting at 9 and 9:30 a.m., Big Cypress National Preserve rangers will lead festivalgoers on a one-mile hike through North Collier Regional Park. Along the way, rangers will teach hikers interesting facts about panthers, including its prime habitat, how to spot panther tracks and learn from the Big Cypress Preserve biologists about the important research they are doing to protect the felines.

  • Tours are limited to 15 participants, reservations are required.
  • To RSVP, call Lisa Andrews, Outreach/Education Specialist at Big Cypress National Preserve, at 239-695-1164.

At 12:30 and 2 p.m., CREW Land and Water Trust will lead children on a Nature Detective Tour—30-minute nature walks that are as educational as they are fun.

Cypress Swamp - Big Cypress Preserve

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nature on Wheels will be hosting an all-day Kid’s Activity Room, where kids and parents can take in a puppet show, make their own panther puppet and enjoy other arts and craft projects.

At 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., educational kids’ games will entertain and teach important facets of the panther’s life.

  • Lunch for a Florida Panther teaches children what it takes for the animal to survive, from hunting and feeding its cubs, to finding suitable drinking water, and how habitat changes affect just about every aspect of the panther’s day-to-day life.
  • In Panther Prowl, kids race across a field, prowling like a panther. But before reaching the goal, certain outside influences, like roads and habitat destruction, can block the path. Have what it takes to survive like a panther? Find out here.
  • In Florida Panther Neighbors, children learn the effects that protecting an umbrella species like the panther have on an entire ecosystem.

Games are limited to 15 children per round.

Florida Panther Cub - Florida Panther Festival

On Sunday, November 17, the Florida Panther Festival is dedicated to on-site field trips. Eleven unique outings are scheduled throughout the day, each exploring a different state or national park, preserve, reserve or forest. Attendees hoof it by foot, pedal, paddle and even by wheel in swamp buggyies and Jeeps, on expeditions exploring some of Florida’s unique primordial landscapes. Prices vary per excursion, and advanced registration is required.


Check Page 2 for Eco Adventure Lineup


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

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