Happy trails to you, Roy Rogers restaurants.

Marriott Corp. said yesterday it would sell the fast-food chain to Hardee's Food Systems, a deal that will likely mark the end of the Roy Rogers name on the restaurants that have served hamburgers, roast beef sandwiches and "wild wings" to a generation of Washington-area customers.

Hardee's, which will pay $365 million for the chain, said it would convert the 363 Marriott-owned outlets throughout the Northeast into Hardee's restaurants during the next few months, and planned to meet today with the owners of another 238 franchised Roy Rogers to discuss a name change.

Rogers, the legendary singing cowboy, lent his name and wholesome image to the chain when Marriott opened its first restaurant in Falls Church in 1968. In recent years, his persona has been played down, and most of the restaurants' youthful clientele don't know who he is, said Rogers's son, Roy Rogers Jr.

Rogers -- who is 78 and operates a museum in Victorville, Calif., featuring his stuffed and mounted horse, Trigger -- was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, his son said the family was disappointed that Rogers's name was being phased out.

"Time goes on and I guess things do change," said the younger Rogers. "Dad kept the cowboy image up strong for them for a lot of years, and then four or five years ago, they decided to go in another direction. These 25-year-old advertising people think they know all the gimmicks."

Hardee's, with sales of $3.5 billion and more than 3,300 outlets, is the third-largest hamburger chain in the nation after McDonald's and Burger King. However, its units are heavily concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast, and analysts said the chain would fit well with the Roy Rogers outlets, which are concentrated in the Northeast.

The biggest overlap between the chains occurs in the Washington area, where there are 66 Hardee's and 153 Roy's. Assuming no local outlets are closed, the combined operation will be the largest fast-food chain in the area.

Both Hardee's and Roy's offer similar fare -- hamburgers, roast-beef sandwiches and fried chicken -- although Hardee's menu favorites also include grilled chicken and turkey club sandwiches.

Hardee's also has a popular breakfast menu featuring fresh biscuits and pancakes.

"We're going to take the best items from both and let the customers decide," said Hardee's President Bill Prather.

Through the years, Marriott tried to build Roy's image around the friendly personality of its namesake, who until a few years ago made personal appearances at restaurant openings with his singing group, "The Sons of the Pioneers."

Recently, the chain has tried to appear more contemporary in an effort to keep pace with a changing industry.

Hardee's was named for its founder Wilber Hardee, a North Carolina restaurateur. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Imasco Ltd., a Montreal-based cigarette, restaurant and financial-services conglomerate that had sales of $5.5 billion in 1989.

In addition to Hardee's, which is headquartered in Rocky Mount, N.C., Imasco also owns Peoples Drug Stores in the United States.

About half of Imasco's $665 million in operating profits last year came from its Imperial Tobacco unit, which controls 56 percent of the Canadian cigarette market.

Marriott, which announced in December that it was looking to sell Roy Rogers and its family-restaurant group to concentrate on its hotel and contract-service businesses, may be getting out of the fast-food business at just the right time.

According to the National Restaurant Association, fast-food sales grew only about 3 percent last year, the slowest rate since 1980. The association expects the industry to grow at about the same rate this year.

The fast-food blahs are a result of the rapid expansion of some chains in recent years, changing demographics and competition from take-out shops and microwave ovens, industry experts have said.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, Marriott's stock closed at $26.37 1/2, down $1.37 1/2, continuing a steady drop that began in the fall. Since the end of October, the company's stock has lost 27 percent of its value.

Wall Street analysts say the decline is a result of the general selling trend on Wall Street and fears about softness in the real estate and hotel businesses, two areas in which Marriott is heavily involved.

Although the company's hotel and real-estate sales remain generally strong, "the bottom line is, Marriott is being penalized {by investors} for being among a lousy group" of stocks, said Caroline Levy, an analyst with Shearson Lehman Hutton.