With its paniolo (cowboy) heritage and the ranches it spawned, the Big Island is a great place for equestrians. Riders can gallop through green pastures, ride to Kealakekua Bay to see the Captain Cook Monument, or saunter into Waipio Valley for a taste of old Hawaii.
King's Trail Rides. Riders take a two-hour excursion to the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay for snorkeling. All your gear is provided, except for fins and reef walkers. It costs $135-$150 per person, with lunch. 81-6420 Mamalahoa Hwy., (Hwy. 11), Kealakekua. 808/323-2388 or 808/345-0616. www.konacowboy.com
Naalapa Stables. This company is a good bet, especially for novice riders. The horses are well trained, and the stable is well run. Rides through the Waipio Valley cross freshwater streams and pass a black-sand beach. Naalapa also offers open-range and horse-drawn wagon rides on the historic Kahua Ranch in North Kohala. Rides to Waipio depart twice a day, Monday through Saturday, 9:30 AM and 1 PM, from Waipio Valley Artworks; Kahua Ranch rides depart twice daily from the ranch at 8:30 AM and 1 PM. Rates for a 2½-hour ride begin at $89 per person for both locations. Off Hwy. 240, Kukuihaele. 808/775-0419. www.naalapastables.com
Waipio Ridge Stables. Two different rides around the rim of Waipio Valley are offered—a 2½-hour trek for $85 and a 5-hour hidden-waterfall adventure (with swimming) for $165. Riders meet at Waipio Valley Artworks. Off Hwy. 240, Kukuihaele. 808/775-1007 or 877/757-1414. www.waipioridgestables.com
Waipio on Horseback. Not many outfits venture into the green jungle of the floor of the Waipio Valley. Waipio on Horseback takes you to an authentic taro farm. Rides, which depart twice daily, Monday through Saturday, from the Last Chance Store, cost $78. Last Chance Store, off Hwy. 240, Kukuihaele. 877/775-7291 or 808/775-7291. www.waipio.homestead.com
Happy Trails Hawaii. Take a guided horseback ride through the verdant Waimea Valley on the North Shore along trails that offer panoramic views from Kaena Point to the famous surfing spots. Rates for a 90-minute trail ride begin at $55. 1 mi mauka up Pupakea Rd. on right, Pupakea. 808/638-7433.
Kualoa Ranch. This ranch across from Kualoa Beach Park on the Windward side leads trail rides in the Kaaawa Valley. Rates for a one-hour trail ride begin at $59. Kualoa has other activities such as bus and Jeep tours, all-terrain-vehicle trail rides, and children's activities, which may be combined for half- or full-day package rates. 49-560 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaaawa. 808/237-8515. www.kualoa.com
Turtle Bay Stables. This is the only spot on the island where you can take the horses on the beach. The stables here are part of the North Shore resort, but can be utilized by nonguests. The sunset ride is a definite must if you are a friend of our four-legged friends. Rates for a 45-minute trail ride begin at $50. 4 mi north of Kahuku in the Turtle Bay Resort. 808/293-8811.
Most of the horseback-riding tours on Kauai are primarily walking tours with very little trotting and no cantering or galloping, so no experience is required. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If you're interested, most of the stables offer private lessons. The most popular tours are the ones including a picnic lunch by the water. Your only dilemma may be deciding what kind of water you want—waterfalls or ocean. You may want to make your decision based on where you're staying. The "waterfall picnic" tours are on the wetter North Shore, and the "beach picnic" tours take place on the South Side.
CJM Country Stables. Just past the Hyatt in Poipu, CJM Stables offers a three-hour picnic ride, with noshing on the beach, as well as their more popular two-hour trail ride. The landscape here is rugged and beautiful, featuring sand dunes and limestone bluffs. CJM sponsors seasonal rodeo events that are free and open to the public. Prices range from $98 to $125. 1½ mi from Hyatt Regency Kauai off Poipu Rd., Koloa. 808/742-6096. www.cjmstables.com
Esprit de Corps. If you ride, this is the company for you. Esprit de Corps has three- to eight-hour rides and allows some trotting and cantering based on the rider's experience and comfort with the horse. What's also nice is the maximum group size: six. There are also pony parties and half-day horse camps for kids (usually summers). Weddings on horseback can be arranged, and custom rides for less experienced and younger riders (as young as two) are available, as well as private lessons. Rates range from $120 to $375. End of Kualapa Pl., Kapaa. 808/822-4688. www.kauaihorses.com
Princeville Ranch Stables. A longtime kama aina (resident) family operates Princeville Ranch. They originated the waterfall picnic tours, which run three or four hours and include a short but steep hike down to Kalihi Wai Falls, a dramatic three-tier waterfall, for swimming and picnicking. Princeville also has shorter, straight riding tours and private rides, and if they're moving cattle while you're visiting, you can sign up for a cattle drive. Prices range from $80 to $135. West of Princeville Airport mauka between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville. 808/826-6777. www.princevilleranch.com
Several companies on Maui offer horseback riding that's far more appealing than the typical hour-long trudge over a dull trail with 50 other horses.
Maui Stables. Hawaiian-owned and run, this company provides a trip back in time, to an era when life moved more slowly and reverently—though galloping is allowed, if you're able to handle your horse! Educational tours begin at the stable in remote Kipahulu (near Hana), and pass through several historic Hawaiian sites. Before heading up into the forest, your guides intone the words to a traditional oli, or chant, asking for permission to enter. By the time you reach the mountain pasture overlooking Waimoku Falls, you'll feel lucky to have been a part of the tradition. Both morning and afternoon rides are available at $150 per rider. Between mile markers 40 and 41 on Hwy. 37, Hana, 96713. 808/248-7799. www.mauistables.com
Mendes Ranch. Family-owned and run, Mendes operates out of the beautiful ranchland of Kahakuloa on the windward slopes of the West Maui Mountains. Two-hour morning and afternoon trail rides ($110) are available with an optional barbecue lunch ($20). Cowboys will take you cantering up rolling pastures into the lush rain forest to view some of Maui's biggest waterfalls. Mendes caters to weddings and parties and offers private trail rides on request. Should you need accommodations they have a home and bunk for rent right on the property. 3530 Kahekili Hwy., Wailuku, 96793. 808/244-7320 or 800/871-5222. www.mendesranch.com
Piiholo Ranch. The local wranglers here will lead you on a rousing ride through family ranchlands—up hillside pastures, beneath a eucalyptus canopy, and past many native trees. Morning and afternoon "country" rides last two hours and cost $120. Their well-kept horses navigate the challenging terrain easily, but hold on when axis deer pass by! Private rides and lessons are available. End of Waiahiwi Rd., Makawao, 96768. 808/357-5544. www.piiholo.com
Pony Express Tours. Pony Express Tours offers trips on horseback into Haleakala Crater. The half-day ride goes down to the crater floor for a picnic lunch, and is a great way to see the top of the dormant volcano. The company also offers 1½- and 2-hour rides on the slopes of the Haleakala Ranch. Prices range from $95 to $182. 808/667-2200. www.ponyexpresstours.com