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Since the 1800s when paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) started roping and wrangling in the upcountry, horseback riding has played a big role in Maui’s distinctive history and culture.
Visitors can saddle up for four-legged forays into dramatic landscapes, from windswept shorelines to the inside of Haleakala volcano. Along the way they can hear tales from contemporary paniolo, who share their passion for the island and its ranching history.
Participants should wear long pants and close-toed shoes on their horseback ride. A light jacket comes in handy for excursions in the cooler, higher elevations. It’s also wise to don a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
The following seven ranches invite visitors to saddle up, grab the reins and hoof it into the beauty and history of Maui.
Ironwood Ranch With rides venturing through forests of ironwood and fields of pineapple, this west Maui firm keeps groups small and personalized. Guides point out ancient home sites and share the history of the area’s valleys. Among the options is a late afternoon tour with vibrant sunset views.www.ironwoodranch.com
Lahaina StablesOwned by a longtime Maui resident and naturalist, this company takes riders into west Maui’s Kauaula and Launiupoko valleys, with great views of the ocean and neighboring islands. The midday trip comes with lunch on top of a ridge. Guides share insights into the history, legends and lore of the island.www.mauihorse.com
Makani Olu RanchThis central Maui working cattle ranch features a three-hour plantation ride up the slopes of Waikapu Valley, with a break for a box lunch. During its private ranch ride, one or two people can hone their horsemanship skills in the arena before hitting the trail.www.makanioluranch.com
Makena StablesThese south Maui horseback tours are run by an island-born paniolo who knows the region inside-out. Leading small groups up the slopes of Haleakala and across Ulupalakua Ranch, the guide points out historic and natural highlights, from centuries-old lava flows to glimpses of local wildlife.www.makenastables.com
Mendes RanchThe Mendes family holds deep ties to the land. Their morning and afternoon jaunts lead down the edge of a valley to the coastline, with oceanfront photo ops. A horseback and helicopter combination includes a flight over the west Maui mountains and a barbecue lunch.www.mendesranch.com
Piiholo RanchThe Baldwin family, one of Maui’s longtime paniolo clans, runs this ranch at the 2,000-foot elevation. Its country rides meander across lush pastures with ocean and mountain views, with stretches through forests of eucalyptus, ohia and koa trees, home of endemic forest birds.www.piiholo.com
Pony Express ToursReady to ride through a crater? Pony Express Tours leads four-hour, four-legged adventures down to the floor of Haleakala Crater. Its ranch tour explores the rolling pastures of an upcountry cattle ranch, with views from 4,000 feet above sea level, one of the many lures of a Maui horseback riding tour.www.ponyexpresstours.com