Less than an hour from San José one the most accessible spots in the national park system allows a short hike through untouched forest. The Quebrada González station is just off the main Braulio Carrillo highway in the park of the same name.
About 45 minutes from the north side of San José, the park station is on the right about five kilometers past the only large bridge on the highway, over the Río Sucio. The bridge is just below a well-known spot where the river loaded with sediment from the north side of the Volcan Irazú joins a clear river. Both watersheds are almost intact.
On the highway, the continental divide is between the toll booth and the short tunnel. Fog can be a problem here usually later in the day.
At the Quebrada González station a trail goes up the creek away from the highway and the noise of the highway is quickly left behind. The trail is a circle 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) long through pristine forest. The first several hundred meters are relatively flat before the trail starts up onto a ridge. The last part of the loop is steep steps down and affected by traffic noise.
To keep the hike manageable one can turn around at any point. Once on a ridge top where the trucks can be heard again, most of the nicer part of the walk is behind.
The forest here is an exceptionally wet foothill forest where clouds coming across the humid Caribbean lowlands dumps large volumes of rain. It can rain any time of year here, but during the January-March dry season and earlier in the day are better.
This habitat is home to many species of birds with colorful tanagers well-represented. Unfortunately for the casual and serious birdwatcher alike, the fanciest tend to rove through the forest canopy in mixed flocks that don’t pause much for observation. In the area of the trail, there are usually about three of these flocks which might be located on any given visit.
The trail is one of the better places in Costa Rica for species characteristic of this narrow band of wet forest, such as lattice-tailed trogon, yellow-eared toucanet, dull-mantled antbird, black-crowned antpitta, black-headed antthrush, sharpbill, pale-vented thrush, and ashy-throated bush-tanager.
More likely to be seen or at least heard close to the trail are orange-billed sparrow, white-breasted wood-wren, white-ruffed manakin, olive and tawny-crested tanagers (together), common bush-tanager, and black-headed nightingale-thrush. Large animals and snakes are rarely seen.
There is another trail across the highway but the habitat there is secondary as it was cattle pasture when the park was founded in the 1980s.
The entrance fee is $12 for international tourists and 1,000 colons for Costa Ricans and residents. The gate technically opens at 8 a.m. The rangers prefer you park up in front of the station itself.