The valley was sacred to ancient Hawaiians from the 13th to the 18th century, as Chief Laʻa-mai-kahiki settled there after visiting Kauaʻi before returning to Tahiti. It was also the site of the sacred drums of Kapahuʻula and Kaʻahuʻulapunawai as well as the sacred Hill of Kauakahiakahoʻowaha, the key to the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Oʻahu. As written in the Kumulipo, an ancient Hawaiian genealogical chant, Kualoa is where Papa and Wakea buried their first still born child, Haloa. It is said that the first kalo (taro) plant grew up from where Haloa was buried at Kualoa.
In 1850 an American doctor, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd purchased 622 acres of ranch land at Kualoa for $1300, and also the island of Mokoliʻi just offshore, from King Kamehameha III. Dr. Judd was the first person to translate medical journals into the Hawaiian language for King Kamehameha and so the king was very grateful for his works. In 1860 Dr. Judd bought a further 2200 acres. Then in 1880 Dr. Judd's son Charles bought another 1188 acres. Today there are about 4000 acres of land.
In 1863 Charles Judd and his brother-in-law Samuel Garner Wilder started a sugarcane plantation and built a sugar mill at the ranch. Several years of low rainfall brought sugar farming to a close, and the mill closed in 1870. The ruins of the old sugar mill can still be seen along Kamehameha Highway.
In 1941 during World War II, the U.S. military occupied the land, which became the site of Kualoa Airfield. After the war the ranch was returned to the Morgan family, the owners and descendants of Dr. Judd.
The entire ahupuaʻa (traditional land division of ancient Hawaii) was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu as the Kualoa Ahupuaʻa Historical District, site 74000718 on October 16, 1974.
From 1993 to 1998, the ranch hosted Hawaii's first major rock festival, the Big Mele.
Kualoa is open for guided tours. More than 50 movies and TV shows have been filmed at Kualoa over the years, including Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, 50 First Dates, You, Me and Dupree, Hawaii Five-0, Mighty Joe Young, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island and Lost.