Happy Isles

May 23, 2022
Happy Isles, Yosemite National Park
Total distance walked: 1.82 miles

Summer is Yosemite National Park’s most popular season. If you’re looking for an easy hike, a tranquil place to get away from the Valley crowds, or a cooler climate without driving up to the high country, then Happy Isles is the place to visit.


My sister and I walked the dirt trail—east of Curry Village—to the fen near Happy Isles.

Trail to the fen.

The fen is a unique wetland. It stays wet year-round. Fast-moving but gentle water flows under the boardwalk. When the waterfalls have gone dry, and the sun is baking the earth, and the rest of California is in a drought, the fen remains wet being fed by stored groundwater.

From there we wandered over to the Nature Center, a museum filled with natural history displays. This is a hands-on, kid-friendly place.


Out behind the Center, we enjoyed the peaceful and shady surroundings before crossing the bridge to Happy Isles.

James M. Hutchings originally named Happy Isles Island Rapids which I think is a more accurate name. But H.W. Dennison (Guardian of Yosemite) got a happy feeling being there, so he renamed it Happy Isles. It is where the rumbling Merced River gushes around a group of tiny islands creating a soft breeze—or so it seems, cooling you even on the hottest days.



If you visit during spring, you might see lovely white blooms on the dogwoods that live under the fir, cedar and pine trees. We were there too late in spring to see them, but we did notice the graffiti carved into a fallen tree trunk.

What happened to Leave No Trace?

With the cherished bond of sisterhood between us, we continued our tour of the islands sometimes walking in silence, the soothing sound of surging water as our companion.


Once back at the car, we drove to a picnic area on the Merced River tucked away from almost everything.

Merced River

Regardless of what season you visit Yosemite, whether it’s your first visit or your hundredth, you are bound to find it “…grandest of all the special temples of nature [you are] ever permitted to enter…” —John Muir