Favorite Yosemite Spots: The Happy Isles Fen


Photo by Michelle Hansen

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The fen is a favorite spot of Michelle Hansen, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “Over the years, I have come to appreciate the little things about Yosemite Valley. The big things like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls are so ridiculously big that the small wonders get overlooked. I enjoy taking a visitor through a natural treasure like the fen and pointing out why it’s special. The fen doesn’t feel like any other place in the Valley and the shades of vivid green always knock my socks off!”


Photo by Michelle Hansen

What is a fen? According to the National Park Service at Yosemite, a fen is a peat-forming wetland that is fed by moving groundwater (as opposed to peat bogs, which are formed by rainwater). However, that dry description doesn’t begin to capture the lush green of this Yosemite Valley wetland where plants and animals thrive. Fens are not common to dry summer climates like that of the Sierra Nevada, so this two acre wetland just west of the Happy Isles Nature Center in Yosemite Valley is an extremely unique part of the California landscape. This particular fen is fed by water in the form of snow melt from Glacier Point. In the spring, shining ribbons of water streak the face of the Glacier Point apron as the water trickles to the valley floor, feeding the water-dependent environment of the fen.


Photo by Michelle Hansen

Formerly, this fen covered about three acres of the Happy Isles area in two distinct arms. But in 1928, the National Park Service created a parking lot on the eastern arm of the fen, using river sand to fill the boggy wetland. In 2002, park ecological restoration staff rehabilitated much of the fen to an approximation of the site as it existed one hundred years ago with native re-vegetation, removal of river sand fill and protective split-rail fencing. The existing boardwalk through the fen contains interpretive signs describing the ecology and restoration, as well as providing a pleasant place to stroll on a warm summer day. The trail through the fen can also provide sightings of plants and animals uncommon in Yosemite, like horsetail, lady ferns, song sparrows and tree frogs.


Photo by Michelle Hansen

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

5 comments on “Favorite Yosemite Spots: The Happy Isles Fen

  1. I was just at Happy Isles a month ago, and have been there many times before – but I missed the Fen somehow. Now I’ll have to go back! Darn!!


  2. Thanks, Michelle — I too enjoy the lush fen there. it’s a fine place to meet mosquitoes too. 🙂 Did you know that when the NPS removed the old asphalt, native seeds that had lain dormant for 75 years in the newly-exposed soil sprouted? Mother Nature will always find a way to prevail.


  3. The Fen is one of my favorite spots too. The first time I took my husband there, we had just started seeing each other. We walked over one night to relax after he had had a really bad day at work. It was completely dark so his first experience there was not being able to see it, but just take in the smells, sounds and the feel of the cooler air. Even though he couldn’t see it, he was amazed. He felt better too.


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