horseback riding in Waipi'o valley

Horseback Riding on the Big Island

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If you like Horseback Riding you are on the right island. There are many horses on the Big Island, especially in and around Waimea. The scenic open landscapes here are great for horse-powered adventures, and did you know that the island of Hawaii has a rich equestrian history including Hawaiian Cowboys?

We start with a short introduction to the history of horseback riding on Hawa’i. Afterwards we provide a list of horseback riding tours on the Big Island.

The history of Paniolos – the Cowboys of Hawaii

Hawai’i has its own brand of cowboys, or Paniolo’s, and a rich history in horseback riding. When the Spanish vaqueros (“cowboys”) arrived on the island in the early 19th century they brought the traditional euro-latin culture of riding and roping skills. The king of Hawaii hired these vaqueros to teach Hawaiians herding and ranching skills in order to control the many cows that were given to the Hawaiian royalty as a gift, but now were roaming the island almost uncontrolled.

As the Hawaiian culture and latin vaquero cultures mingled, a unique breed of cowboy emerged: the Paniolo.  Waimea on the Big Island is Paniolo central, and the place to be if you like horseback riding – local style!

big island, horseback riding tour
A group on a Horseback riding tour in Waipi’o valley. Photo credit: Mike Neenan

Horseback riding tours on the Big Island

Several ranches offer the opportunity to explore their (often very large) range as part of a guided horseback riding tour.  Trails take you through the pastures with spectacular views of the coastline and peaks. It is also possible to see other spectacular parts of the Big Island, such as Waipi’o valley.

Saddle up, ride through the wide-open spaces of Waimea, or explore the trails in and above Waipi’o valley for amazing sightseeing and back country waterfalls

Horseback riding tours near Waimea

Two good vendors arranging horseback riding tours are located on the northernmost tip of the Big Island, 20 minutes (by car) north of Waimea:

  • Paniolo Adventures at Ponoholo Ranch offers 5 different rides.
  • Na’alapa Stables at Kahua Ranch. They offer a tour of the Kahua ranch and a 2.5-hour excursion on horseback deep into Waipi’o valley.
  • Dahana Ranch (formally known as Nakoa Ranch) offers rides at their ranch that last between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. All rides need to be reserved ahead of time.

Especially the horseback riding tours in Waipi’o valley are an unique experience. Have a look at the follow video by PBS featuring the Na’alapa stables tour for an impression:

Horseback riding tours near Hilo

On the east side of the Big Island, midway between Hilo and Volcano in mountainview:

  • Pa’ani Ranch horseback riding tour: offers small group tours of approximately one and a half hour in length riding through their 220-acre working cattle ranch for $90 per person (2017 price).
horseback riding in Waipi'o valley
horseback riding tour in Waipi’o valley. Image credits: CRP-PDX on Flickr