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 operated, this company provides a trip back in time to an era when life moved more slowly and reverently. Tours begin at the stable in remote Kipahulu and pass through several historic Hawaiian sites. Before heading up into the forest, your guide intones the words to a traditional oli, or chant, asking for permission to enter. Along the way, you can learn about the principles of Hawaiian culture, including a deep respect for the aina (land). By the time you reach the mountain pasture overlooking several waterfalls, including the 400-foot Waimoku Falls, you'll feel lucky to have been a part of the tradition. Rides begin at 9:45 am daily and cost $160 per rider—definitely well worth it. Maui Stables provides refreshments and bottled water only; bring a picnic lunch if you're a hearty eater. Hwy. 37, between mile markers 40 and 41, Hana, HI, 96713. PHONE: 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 ($99) are available. Cowboys take you cantering up rolling pastures into the lush rain forest, and then you'll descend all the way down to the ocean for a photo op with a dramatic backdrop. Don't expect a Hawaiian cultural experience here—it's all about the horses and the ride. Skip the optional barbecue lunch ($20); you'll do better in town. 3530 Kahekili Hwy., Wailuku, HI, 96793. PHONE: 808/244-7320 or 800/871-5222. www.mendesranch.com.
Piiholo Ranch. The local wranglers here lead you on a rousing ride through family ranchlands—up hillside pastures, beneath a eucalyptus canopy, and past many native trees. One-hour rides ($75) and two-hour rides ($120) are offered twice daily. Their well-groomed horses navigate the challenging terrain easily, but hold on when axis deer pass by! You must be at least eight years old and in good physical condition to participate. Small groups (no more than six riders) make it a more personal experience. End of Waiahiwi Rd., Makawao, HI, 96768. PHONE: 808/270-8750. www.piiholo.com.
Pony Express Tours. This outfit offers horseback journeys into Haleakala Crater. The half-day ride, which descends into the crater floor for a picnic lunch, is a great way to experience the majesty of the volcano without having to hike. Prior riding experience is highly recommended, as you're on horseback for at least 4 hours. The company also offers 1½- and 2-hour rides on the slopes of the Haleakala Ranch. Prices range from $95 to $182. Kula, HI, 96790. PHONE: 808/667-2200. www.ponyexpresstours.com.