Homestead Loop is best followed in a clockwise direction by heading south from the trailhead off the parking area and ending at the trailhead behind the interpretive center. Those who hike it in the other direction often miss where the trail leaves the beach.
The trail begins by climbing a wooded dune and then reaching a bench and the marked junction to the Quiet Area. This special area, reached by following the one-way, quarter mile spur to its end, is a deep ravine surrounded by steep wooded dunes that form a quiet escape for hikers.
The main trail continues south to descend through the woods. Orange bootprints lead you along the Homestead Trail as it crosses a large, grassy meadow and then reenters the woods. At Mile 1 (mileage includes visiting the Quiet Area) you reach a well-posted, four-way junction where the hiking trail merges with a ski run.
Head east (right) along the Homestead Trail and enter the park’s Natural Area along a wide path that also accommodates skiers in the winter. The trail begins with a gentle climb as it skirts the base of a dune forested in oak and maple. In less than a quarter mile of the four-way junction, you pass a spot where the dune has begun migrating across the trail.
At Mile 1.7 you break out onto the Lake Michigan beach. For the next half mile, you follow the beach north along a natural path formed between the waves rolling in from the west and the sandy bluffs that box you in on the east. At Mile 2.2 a nature center sign mounted in a small hill of sand directs you back inland, where you quickly come to a boardwalk. The planked trail leads you into foredunes, and soon you ascend to a large interpretive sign.
From the interpretive sign, you begin a quick climb up a sandy path that turns into another stretch of boardwalk. When it tops out, you’ll be in a well-shaded area, looking at a forested gully between two huge dunes. On the far side, it looks as if the sand is pouring down between the trees. Shortly, you reach the stairway that leads to the Dune Overlook Platform.
You’re only a short way from the nature center and parking area, but don’t pass up the climb to the scenic overlook. It's 193 steps to the top where a pair of observation decks, perched 190 feet above Lake Michigan at the top of a large parabolic dunes, provide a sweeping view of Lake Michigan, its sandy shoreline, and, most of all, dunes. The sight of these dunes is a fitting end to a day spent hiking through them.