The aroma alone is worth the price of admission.
Beefy men turn the chile roasters. Sparks shoot out, flames tickling the sweet, spicy fragrance out of the fruit. The cylindrical grills glow hot white and orange in the dark, and the light gives a mythical cast to the men who tend the fires. You can almost smell their chiles from Colorado Springs.
This is what lures more than 140,000 visitors annually from the Front Range and beyond to the Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival, which celebrates its 29th anniversary Sept. 22-24, 2023, in the historic downtown of Colorado’s Steel City. What autumn leaves are to New England, chiles are to Pueblo: the definitive rite of the season. Always the third weekend after Labor Day, the festival coincides with chile harvest.
Not surprising, you’ll find the chiles everywhere in the fest: in jams, salsas, ice cream, spirits, beer. But if you’re a purist like I am, you’ll find a vendor selling a chile wrap—just a hot roasted chile, with a little cheese inside a soft tortilla. Ohhhh, yeah.
Buy a bushel or a half a bushel, and you’ll be a star chef all year long. And the festival can help you with that.
“Our culinary demonstrations have been really popular,” says Donielle Kitzman, vice president of the Visit Pueblo and Convention & Visitors Bureau.
But some masochistic chile eaters take their love of chiles too far. For them, there’s the Jalapeno Eating Contest, where entrants punish their bodies by eating dozens of chiles while crowds cheer.
“Everybody loves a train wreck,” Kitzman says.
Another increasingly popular event is the Chihuahua Parade. Folks dress up their Chihuahuas for a costume contest (sombreros are a popular accessory — surprise, surprise), because there apparently are no laws against it. Register online with your pup and $7, and you’re in. There’s even a category for Chihuahua wannabes, where all breeds are welcome. At every corner of the street festival, you’ll find a couple of entertainment stages. Bands and musicians will perform throughout the three days.
The Balloon Fest is a popular newer addition to the Chile Festival. About 15 hot air balloons take flight in early Saturday and Sunday launches. And on Saturday night there’s a balloon glow on the Pueblo Riverwalk.
My favorite memory from recent years was stumbling upon the Tejano tent. A hot band with about a dozen brass instruments was playing for a huge audience that would not sit down. Grandmothers danced with grandchildren, couples were cheek to cheek, and everybody sang along in Spanish. I love Pueblo.
Insider Tips: Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival
Sept. 22-24, 2023
Find easy parking.
Free parking is available at S. Main St. Parking Garage on Grand & City Center Dr or you can pay to park at the Main Street Parking Garage. Don’t want to drive? No worries. The festival offers daily shuttle pickup and dropoff at the Midtown parking lot.
Explore the new Fuel & Iron Food Hall.
You’ll find a delicious blend of local restaurants in the restored Holmes Hardware Building on historic Union Avenue.
Take in Pueblo.
Why not make a day or weekend of it? Take a boat on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk (how can we get one of these in the Springs?), right next to the festival. Do some boating, hiking or biking at Lake Pueblo State Park 10 minutes west of the festival. Explore farm stalls and take your kids on a tractor ride 10 minutes east of the festival.
Eat a slopper.
It’s Pueblo’s signature dish. (Why doesn’t Colorado Springs have a signature dish?!) A hamburger patty in a bowl, smothered in green chile. My favorite is at Grey’s Coors Tavern.
Download the app.
The Visit Pueblo App will walk you through everything delightful around town, including pointing to some of the best Italian and Mexican joints in Colorado. (COS does have one of these apps, thankfully!)