Even though there are many ocean activities in Hawaii, did you know there are fun things you can do on land? 

Well, consider adding Big Island horseback riding to your bucket list. 

Type horseback riding big island on the search engine field and you’ll find a handful of outfitters in the Kohala and Waimea areas. 

Whether you are kama‘āina (resident) or a visitor, this once-in-a-lifetime adventure is sure to a lasting memory.

You can learn about the rich Hawaiian culture of how horses came about on the Big Island, the life of a paniolo or Hawaiian cowboy, and the few oldest working ranches still in operation today.

The cattle-ranching industry started with a Hawaiian king who saw potential and value when he was gifted with a horse. 

According to Hawaiian history, American trader Richard Cleveland gave King Kamehameha I his first horse in 1803. The king had already received half a dozen cows and a bull ten years prior, in which he placed a royal decree forbidding their slaughter. After a horseriding demonstration, King Kamehameha saw the value of this special animal and soon after, more horses were brought to the island.  

Many years later, cattle multiplied on Hawaii island. 

King Kamehameha III called Spanish cowboys or vaqueros to teach locals how to corral livestock on horseback. That’s how paniolos came about.

More than a dozen working cattle ranches operate on the Big Island, some offering horseback riding services. 

Paniolo Adventures 

Dress up in cowboy hats, chaps, boots and Australian dusters for the real feel of how paniolos lived their days at the range. Paniolo Adventures offers scenic views of upcountry Hawaii and majestic views of Hawaii’s volcanoes: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualālai. 

On a clear day, there’s a good chance you could see the Haleakala volcano in Maui. The Ponoholo Ranch has 11,000 acres that span over three climate zones. This eco-friendly ranch also practices rotational grazing to reduce land erosion and excessive pasturing.

Where: At Ponoholo Ranch located in North Kohala past Waimea. Head towards Hawi on Highway 250. It’s the red barn on the left past mile marker 13.

Operation Hours: Monday thru Saturday, closed on Sundays.

Tour Offered: There are six different types of rides. You can choose a morning, noon or sunset ride and the level of rider experience. 

Cost: Range from $89 to $185 from one to four hours. 

Perk: Cowboy gear, sunscreen and bottled water are provided free of charge.

Contact Info: (808) 889-5354; https://www.panioloadventures.com/index.php 

Wailea Horseback Adventure LLC

Touted as the only Hawaii Island horseback riding where you can swim at Umauma Falls, Wailea Horseback Adventure is located on the east side of the Big Island in Hakalau. 

With spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Maunakea and Umauma River, Wailea is open to all levels of experience. The tour also includes private access to the hidden waterfalls of Umauma Falls.

Military and kama‘āina discounts are available. 

Where: Hakalau at 31-313 Old Mamalahoa Highway between Umauma Falls Zipline and Botanical World Adventures, just 20 minutes north of Hilo. 

Operation Hours: Open six days a week, advance reservations are required. 

Tour Offered: One type of tour, includes swimming at Umauma Falls

Cost: $145 for 2.5 hours, ¾ of the time swimming at the waterfall.

Contact Info: (808) 775-1007; https://waileahorsebackadventure.com/ 

Na‘alapa Stables

At Kahua Ranch, the cattle and sheep ranch has been operating its horseback riding services since 1981. With 12,000 acres that cover six precipitation zones from rain forest to the ocean, Kahua Ranch has lush pastures to explore, magnificent views of North Kohala, volcanic cinder cones and coastlines to behold.

Where: Kahua Ranch in Waimea, on Mountain Road, past mile marker 11.

Operation Hours: Open 7 days a week.

Tour Offered: Kahua Ranch Tour. 

Cost: $100 for 1.5 hours and $120 for 2.5 hours

Tip: Bring water since it’s a remote area. Kids under 8 are not allowed to ride. 

Contact Info: (808) 889-0022; https://www.naalapastables.com/ 

Waipio on Horseback

Local and knowledgeable guides share Hawaiian legends and the history of Waipio Ranch. Tour the 500-acre working cattle ranch, coconut orchards, banana groves and ancient fishponds. And don’t forget to check out the old Hamakua irrigation ditch used back in the sugar plantation days. 

Where: Waipio on Horseback is located at mile marker 7.5 on Highway 240.

Operation Hours: Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays

Tour Offered: Morning and afternoon tours are three hours long.

Cost: $150

Contact Info: (808) 775-7291; https://waipioonhorseback.com/ 

4d Quarterhorses

Just like the opening scene of The Sound of Music, Dahana Ranch sits against a dramatic backdrop of lush green rolling hills against a bright blue sky and thick white clouds. 4d Quarterhorses offers free-range horseback riding in the highlands east of Waimea.

With 300 acres of upcountry, it’s perhaps one of the few ranches that allow kids as young as 4 years old to ride a horse – only at the parent’s discretion.

Where: At Dahana Ranch in Honokaa, near Waimea at 46-4305 Old Mamalahoa Highway

Operation Hours: Open daily

Tour Offered: 2-hour tour.

Cost: Call the ranch direct for pricing.

Tip: Dahana Ranch is at 3,000 ft elevation so it’s advised to bring a light jacket and long pants. Also, check the weather forecast to make as it is on the wetter side of Waimea and the weather can be fickle.

Contact Info: (808) 987-4872; https://4dquarterhorses.com/ 

Tip from this local: Call the ranch, they may be running specials or offer discounts if you have a large group. You may need to put down a credit card number to secure a booking. Most need at least 24 to 72 hours advance notice to cancel. Also, dress in long pants and closed-toe shoes. No one likes to be surprised when they step on cowpies. 

In this lifetime, you can bet horseback riding on the Big Island is something you won’t ever forget.