Hawaii Horseback Adventures

Four unique trail rides that go beyond the ordinary


Hawaii and horses. The image just seems right. And, in fact you can saddle with dozens of outfitters and riding stables scattered across all six major islands. There are beginner-friendly walks on groomed trails, fast-paced rides for those with some equine experience and challenging excursions into the backcountry to discover sights few tourists ever see. From this list of possibilities, we’ve come up with four rides that offer something a bit out of the ordinary.

Into the Volcano

The island of Maui offers some of the most diverse horseback excursions in the state—everything from beach rides to explorations of wooded trails and canters on expansive grasslands lying thousands of feet above the ocean. The Valley Isle’s most unusual riding adventure begins at the summit of Mount Haleakala, and descends into this dormant volcano’s central crater. The route follows the Sliding Sands Trail to the crater floor, some 2,500 feet below the rim. This route requires about four hours to complete, including a lunch stop in the crater. The tour outfitters recommend that riders have at least some riding experience, and should be comfortable with higher altitudes, as the trail ranges from 7,500 feet up to 10,000 feet above sea level. Needless to say, the views are unforgettable.

Maui, Haleakala Horseback Riding, Hawaii Horseback Adventures

Riders descend the Sliding Sands trail in Haleakala National Park. Hikers and riders can follow a network of trails from the summit rim deep into the dormant volcano’s inner crater. Photo: iStock

Saddles and Swimsuits

The island of Kauai is known for it’s wild spaces, lush landscapes and cascading falls–especially on the north shore. You can take in all these elements on a two-hour ride through the Kalihiwai Valley that includes a chance to plunge into a mountain stream. The ride, which is suitable for all ages, begins at the Silver Falls Ranch, a private 300-acre estate set in the heart of the valley. Tours pass through an 80-acre botanical reserve where more than 150 species of palm trees grow, then joins Pohakuhonu Creek on a trail lined with ferns, hibiscus blossoms and wild orchids. The destination is Sliver Falls, where the ranch’s namesake cascade feeds a refreshing pool of water. Riders can enjoy a refreshing dip while the guides prepare a picnic lunch.

Riding the Rim

The Big Island is home to several working cattle ranches, and visitors can saddle up to ride the ranges where Paniolo, aka Hawaiian cowboys, still work the herds. For a different take on trail riding that includes some breathtaking vistas, head to the east coast village of Kukuihaele, which overlooks the remote Waipio Valley. Flanked by tall ridges and facing the sea, this expansive cleft in the coastal mountain range is often referred to as the “Valley of the Kings,” as it was home to many of the island’s traditional chiefs. The 2.5 hour-ride takes you along the upper rim of the valley, and on to the top of Hiilawe Falls, which is one of the highest and most scenic cascades in the state. The views are unmatched, and if you want more, you can opt for a five-hour ride that continues upstream of the falls, following the fern-clad banks to the river and into a pristine rainforest to discover a series of hidden pools and smaller falls.

Hawaii Big Island, Waipio Valley Horseback Riding

A panoramic horseback perspective of Hawaii’s Waipio Valley from the upper rim. This verdant cleft in the mountains northeastern shore of the Big Island was once home to Hawaii’s kings. Photo: Sharron Miller/iStock

Moonlight on the Trail

The island of Oahu certainly has its share of exciting nightlife. But if your idea of a light show isn’t spinning-mirrored balls, check your calendar for the next full moon, and reserve a spot on Hawaii’s only moonlight horse ride. The adventure is staged from the Gunstock Ranch, which is located on the island’s less-settled north shore, far from city lights. The ranch overlooks Kalanai Point and the Malaekahana State Recreation Area, with the Koolau Mountains rising just behind. These 90-minute rides are scheduled to begin at dusk to take in twilight views of the mountains and ocean as you climb to a scenic overlook just in time to watch the moon rise over the Pacific. The ride back takes place under the light of the full moon. This ride is offered just two to three times a month, so it’s best to reserve well ahead.