Chambers Island: open for quiet exploration

Mysterious Chambers Island is a 45-minute boat ride from Door County’s Fish Creek, but most of us only see it from a distance and hear incidental references from excursion leaders or hiking guides.

Now the historically private island, seven miles northwest of the mainland shore, has become more accessible for quiet exploration. The partnership of a tour boat business and the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay makes this possible.

Holy Name Retreat House and its 70 acres occupy a peninsula on Chambers Island, which means clear views of sunrises over bayside waters and sunsets over Lake Mackaysee (a 350-acre lake within the 2,800-acre island). Cozy rockers and a big stone fireplace overlook the bay; a long screened porch faces the lake.

Retreats began here in the 1950s, and this year’s structured offerings address marriage, motherhood, recovery from addictions and an assortment of Christian themes. Individualized retreats also are on the schedule, but now visitors can come for as little as six hours.

“We also are offering individual, overnight retreats during our themed retreats,” says Barbara Conder, executive director of the retreat house. “We want to share the peace, quiet, serenity and absolute beauty of this place.”

Although Holy Name is a Catholic retreat house, non-Catholics are welcome but need to “honor a couple of our longstanding traditions.” Her reference is to being quiet – and sometimes completely silent – when on retreat property. This typically includes during meals, which are provided to overnight guests.

Two- and three-day retreats for individuals include clean but simple accommodations. Generators provide electricity. There are no televisions, but the island contains a cell phone tower.

Beaches, sand dunes and an octagonal 1868 lighthouse (in a 40-acre day park) are within a walk of Holy Name. Retreat fees – including the one-day Come and See Days – include access to rowboats and bicycles. Day-only visitors are given a brief orientation and history of the island, before being given a map to explore on their own. Swimming, hiking and fishing are options.

What’s biting? En route to the retreat house (on the 69-passenger boat Quo Vadis, which is Latin for “where are you going?”), you’ll likely see the orange buoys of commercial fishermen, whose nets catch whitefish, trout and salmon.

Mike Kennedy, who captains the Quo Vadis, notes a lack of predators on the island, which results in the presence of robust but non-venomous snakes – including garter, green, fox and water.

“Don’t walk off the trails – you’ll get lost in a hurry,” he advises. Similarly, shoreline water levels can be deceiving. Water depth might seem shallow for long distances, only to change unexpectedly because of undertows.

Unpredictable waters and sometimes-rocky shorelines make it risky for novice boaters to visit Chambers Island on their own; the island’s only docks are privately owned.

The land, named after a military captain killed there during an 1816 skirmish with the Black Hawk tribe, has endured multiple identities. In the 1860s, boat builders and fishermen boosted island population to 70.

Business investors added a resort and airplane landing strip in the 1920s. The Depression squashed their grand plan to develop summer homes for the rich, plus yacht harbors, parks and a clubhouse.

Today Chambers Island is a mix of about 50 private homes that are occupied only seasonally, the public lighthouse/park and the retreat house, whose core is a log lodge built by the business investors.

On the grounds are a chapel with daily mass, garden, rosary walk, grotto and Stations of the Cross – providing spiritual connections for those who desire it and choose to not seek it in another way.

The cost of a one-day retreat to Chambers Island is $95 (including lunch); transportation leaves at 9 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m. A two-day retreat, including lodging and meals, is $215; a three-day retreat costs $245.

For more about this and other offerings through Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours:, 920-421-4442. The Quo Vadis offers five daily narrated trips of 1.5 to 3.5 hours in length; Chambers Island retreat days depend upon Holy Name events and staffing.

For more about other Holy Name retreats:, 920-272-8296.

All “Roads Traveled” columns are archived at These articles began in 2002 and are the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.