Husband-and-wife team Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sang this fond farewell as the closing theme to their Western television series, The Roy Rogers Show, which ran from 1951 to 1957 on NBC. Evans is credited as the composer, but it was based on a song by Foy Willing of Riders of the Purple Sage, a group that backed Rogers in many of his Western films and appeared regularly on his '40s radio program.
Willing wrote "Happy Trails In Sunshine Valley" for the 1951 Rogers vehicle Spoilers of the Plains and Evans spun it into a TV theme the following year, with new lyrics and a shorter title. Willing wasn't happy. He's quoted in wife Sharon Lee Willing's book No One To Cry To: "It's my copyright [but] I never did anything about it; they'll just have to live with it. I just wonder sometimes how they feel."
For his 1990 duets album, Heroes & Friends, Randy Travis recorded this with Roy Rogers. Rogers even appeared in the music video for the title track.
Janis Joplin recorded this as a birthday greeting for her friend John Lennon three days before her death on October 4, 1970, which was her last recording session (she also recorded "Mercedes Benz"). According to Lennon, it arrived at his home after Joplin's death.
Van Halen covered this for their 1982 album,Diver Down, and often used it as their show closer. When Sylvie Simmons of Sounds magazine asked about the cover, then-frontman David Lee Roth replied: "Joke 'em if they can't take a f--k, Sylvie! You wouldn't believe the number of TV commercials and radio jingles this band can sing in four-part harmony. I was nannied and weaned by TV - that's the babysitter around here when you're growing up, to sit in front of the tube. You turn into a vidiot. I remember all the commercials. We've been singing 'Happy Trails' for general airport use for years. And we wanted to do something wonderful and different for you."
No one likes permanent goodbyes, which is probably why this song, with its promise to meet again, remains an enduring farewell song. In 2010, the Western Writers of America named it one of the top 100 Western songs of all time.
Rogers and Evans were devout Christians and, according to the Roy Rogers - Dale Evans Museum, there's an alternate religious verse:
Happy trails to you, it's great to say "hello." And to share with you the trail we've come to know. It started on the day that we met Jesus, He came into our hearts and then he freed us. For a life that's true, a happy trail to you.
Quicksilver Messenger Service recorded this for their 1969 album, Happy Trails.
John Stamos and Dave Coulier sing this in the Season 4 Full House episode "Danny In Charge."
This was featured in the movie 28 Days (2000), starring Sandra Bullock.