The Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Fest Is Back with Hot Air Balloons and Chihuahua Parades

Spice life up a little.

Courtesy of The Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival
Courtesy of The Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival

September is a magical time of year in Colorado—not just for the cool tinge in the air and the yellowing of leaves, but because it marks the return of the annual Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival. Each year, people from around the state and far beyond its borders descend upon Colorado’s southern city in hopes of tasting the sweet heat of the green pepper that’s exclusive to the region.

While the exact origins of the crop remain unknown, it’s believed that pepper farming began in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley as early as the mid-1800s. From the cultivation and southern Colorado’s dry climate, a new variety of chile grew, and it became the pride and joy of Pueblo that’s still celebrated today.

From September 22 to 24, visitors can make their way to Pueblo’s Union Avenue for a wide array of vendors, makers, growers, and chefs, all united under the love of the Pueblo green chile and Pueblo’s rich culture and history. Beginning at 3 pm Friday and lasting for most of the weekend (until roughly 5 pm Sunday), guests can enjoy live music, cooking competitions like the salsa showdown, a Chihuahua parade, a jalapeño-eating contest, and daily hot air balloon launches, plus many other exciting events and opportunities to show love for chiles.

And also: a lot of chiles. You’ll be able to sample and purchase as many chiles as your heart (and stomach) can handle, from bags full of Pueblo green chiles freshly roasted before your eyes to dried chiles and “chile-centric” goods and treats throughout the farmers market lineup. Be sure to take your time and get to know some of the growers and producers, too; they work hard to keep tradition alive and fresh produce on the table—without them, there’s no chile fest at all.

Aside from that, all you need to know is that admission is $5 per person for a single day entry (but if you’re savvy, you’ll opt for the family four-pack with full weekend access for just $45) and that your fun, chile-filled weekend is also really supporting Pueblo agriculture. It’s a good time for a good cause—just make sure you’ve got room in the trunk for the bushels of peppers you’ll be bringing home.

Courtesy of The Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival

Drive time:

From Denver: 1 hour, 45 minutes
From Cheyenne: 3 hours
From Albuquerque: 5 hours, 15 minutes

More things to do in the area:

The Downtown Pueblo Riverwalk is a centerpiece of Pueblo and a great way to spend a few hours, whether you’re just strolling along the water, popping in and out of shops and restaurants, or if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon one of the many events held there. Pueblo is also full of museums celebrating its rich history and culture, from the marvels at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum to the Pueblo Heritage Museum to the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.

Also nearby is the Pueblo Zoo, and beyond that awaits the splendor at the tail-end of the Rockies; hike, bike, or camp throughout the mountains to the west of town, including up in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. There’s plenty to keep you busy outside of the chile fest both within the city limits and also out in the surrounding wilderness.

Where to stay:

Pueblo has its fair share of accommodations, though most fall in the hotel or short-term rental category. You can find plenty of big-name hotels in the area, plus rental options from the likes of VRBO and Airbnb, and a few splurge-worthy stand-outs as well. Station on the Riverwalk is a boutique hotel situated in Downtown Pueblo, within walking distance of plenty to see, do, and eat. Oh, and it used to be the town police station and jail from the 1940s to 2010. So when you’re checking its availability, you’re selecting from a variety of “cells” that have been designed by local artists to offer modern flair coinciding with a huge piece of Pueblo history.

For even more history, you could book a room at the Orman Mansion and take in the opulence of its Victorian style. Built in 1889, the rooms are as colorful and lavish as you’d expect, and this space will provide an interesting contrast to your festival shenanigans but a restful place to crash after you’ve had your fun.

Where to eat:

Fuel & Iron Food Hall is a pretty epic place to start; it’s one of the newer concepts in Pueblo but has already steeled itself as a hotspot for pretty much anything you’re craving—ramen, hot chicken, tacos, or simply a refreshing cocktail to wash down those chiles are all easy to acquire here. BISTORO has the hookup for tasty Mediterranean bites, La Forchetta da Massis got the Italian, Mr. Tandoori Urban Bar and Grill will leave you begging for just one more samosa, and GG’s BBQseems self-explanatory, but consuming The Gus—sauce-slathered beef brisket between two grilled cheese sandwiches—is kind of something you have to experience to believe.

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Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram and @e_buehler_ on Twitter for more updates on Denver food and other Mile High shenanigans.