**THIS IS AN OLD ARTICLE AND THE PARK HAS REMOVED THIS CONCESSION OPTION – THEY NO LONGER OFFERS CRATER TOURS – THEY DO HAVE RANCH RIDES AND ARE A GREAT OPTION FOR HORSEBACK RIDING**
In a nutshell: Horseback ride in the Martian terrain of Haleakala Crater.
Minuses: Those more interested in the sport of horseback riding beyond sightseeing transportation may be disappointed.
Sound-bite: “I’m so glad I did it. I felt like a kid again at summer camp!”
This tour provides the most spectacular and unique views of any horseback ride on Maui. Okay, so they really have an unfair advantage over the competition here because they go into the Haleakala Crater. Just being present in the Crater is an awesome experience you won’t ever forget.
There are only two options allowed by the National Park Service for traveling on the trails inside the crater: you hike in, or you ride a horse. If you’re not an endurance hiker, it’s one heck of a workout hiking back out. Going on a horse will take regular folks a whole lot further in than most would otherwise see, and you won’t be accompanied with that nagging feeling of wondering if you’ll be able to sustain gaining 2500′ in just under four miles (and with 1/3 less oxygen in your lungs) hiking back out!
Now the guys at Pony Express do a whole lot more than just show up here with horses for hire. First off, their guides are top notch. Besides knowing their history and geology, they also show a passion for what they do and go above and beyond what you would expect. They’ve been known to take photos and email them to patrons after the trip (yeah, for free.) They also won’t hesitate to swap horses with you if you happen to have trouble with yours. Really, it comes down to having an unbridled passion for what they do, and in taking pleasure in sharing that passion with you.
The ride starts at the Sliding Sands trailhead parking lot, just below the summit lookout point and continues to the base of the crater 3.8 miles in. You will be served a picnic lunch, and be given some time to enjoy something you may never have not heard before: absolute and utter silence.
Now this isn’t exactly a pony ride at the county fair – if you’re a beginner it is going to be a fairly challenging four hours for you. The trail descends 2500′ in elevation in 3.8 miles – and if you’re prone to vertigo, or just still a bit scared of riding on a horse, you might not feel comfortable descending on a sometimes steep and always narrow cinder trail. Now that isn’t to say plenty of beginner riders don’t have a spectacular time (because they definitely do) – but four hours on a horse is a long time for someone not used to riding, and if you’re not prepared for that fact, you might want to investigate by taking a shorter ride first.
Oh, and don’t underestimate the cold up here! You definitely want to wear layers – it can go below freezing in the winter, and temperatures in the 40°s and 50°s (F) are commonplace. The sun is also stronger up here – so bring plenty of sunscreen and maybe even gloves. (What, you didn’t pack gloves?!? If you wanna look like the smartest guy/gal in the group, stop and grab some cheap work gloves at the hardware store on your way up.)
View Haleakala on Horseback Pony Express Tours in a larger map