If you like riding horses the Big Island has got you covered, saddle up!
Horses are part of the recent local history and you can still find a good amount of them on the Big Island (and especially in and around Waimea). Our scenic open landscapes are great for horse-powered adventures, and did you know that island of Hawaii is home to the Hawaiian Cowboys?
But, first things first:
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Horseback riding tours (list + descriptions)
- History of horseback riding on Hawaii
Saddle up, ride through the wide-open spaces of Waimea, the lush rainforest around Hilo, or explore the trails in and above Waipi’o valley for amazing sightseeing and back country waterfalls.
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 the spectacular Waipiʻo valley close to Waimea or the lush rainforest around Hilo.
We list and shortly describe the horseback riding tour companies on the Big Island below ordered by location:
- Tours into Waipiʻo Valley
- Tours in the Waimea + Kohala region
- Tours near Hilo + the Hamakua coast
- Tours in South Kona (Captain Cook area)
Horseback riding tours in Waipiʻo valley
Waipiʻo Valley is hands-down the best place to go for a horseback ride on the Big Island. Not only because the valley itself is such a magical and historic place, or because that’s where you can find the only herd of wild horses in the state, but also because youʻll get a trip down into the valley (and up again) for free as part of your trip!
There are two companies organizing horseback riding tours down into the valley:
Waipiʻo on Horseback
Waipio on Horseback organizes 3 hour long small-group horseback rides in Waipio Valley that include transport down to the valley floor. Local guides share their knowledge about local plants and trees, and about the legends and history of this rich cultural landscape throughout the journey. The leisure pace of the tour makes it a good choice for families.
Waipiʻo Valley on Horseback
Small group horseback riding tour over trails in the majestic Waipiʻo Valley - great for families and includes transport down into the valley.
Duration: 3 hours
Free cancellation: up to 48 hours before tour
The Naʻalapa Stables at Kahua Ranch has two tour options: a tour of the Kahua ranch and a 2.5-hour excursion on horseback deep into Waipiʻo valley. See the follow video by PBS featuring the Naʻalapa stables tour for an impression:
Horseback riding tours near Kohala/Waimea
Several vendors arranging horseback riding tours are located on the northernmost tip of the Big Island, 15 to 20 minutes (by car) from Waimea. These tours are especially good for exploring their ranches on horseback:
- Paniolo Adventures at Ponoholo Ranch offers 5 different rides (20 minutes north of Waimea).
- Dahana Ranch (formally known as Nakoa Ranch, 15 minutes east of Waimea) offers rides at their ranch that last between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. All rides need to be reserved ahead of time.
Horseback riding tours near Hilo
On the east side of the Big Island, near Hilo. This part of the island is know for its lush forests and waterfalls:
- Wailea Horseback Adventures organizes a 2.5 hour horseback ride + waterfall swim tour at the lush Hamakua coast, 20 minutes north of Hilo.
- Paʻani Ranch: (closed?) offers small group tours of approximately one and a half hour in length riding through their 220-acre working cattle ranch for $120 per person.
- The Silver Crest Farms tours take you on a 1.5 hour ride through the lush jungle of Kapoho. [Silver Crest Farms stopped offering tours]
Horseback riding tours in South Kona
On the South / West east side of the Big Island, near Captain Cook. This area forms the lush and plentiful heart of Kona coffee country:
- Hoʻomau Ranch organizes small group tours (up to 5 persons) through the native Hawaiian forests on their ranch.
The history of Paniolos – the Cowboys of Hawaii
Hawaiʻi 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!
We highly recommend this 18-page article on the Paniolo History to anyone that wants to dig deeper into the history of Hawaiian Cowboys.