Pros: Proximity to Louisville, trout fishing, hiking trails, campground, good scenery
Cons: Little rough around the edges, inconsistent management, closed on Mondays & Tuesdays, a little spooky
Best Suited for: Getaway fly fishing trips from the city, family camping, hiking.
If you’ve grown up around Louisville, Otter Creek probably evokes a magical feeling for you. It’s the home of Camp Piomingo, the YMCA youth camp that’s created a million fond memories for generations of kids. The park has changed a lot over the decades but it’s still got that sparkle.
Otter Creek was originally owned by the City of Louisville and operated as a Metro Park. The federal government gifted it to the city as a token of appreciation for all of the Louisville veterans who fought in world war two. The City managed it for decades, and there are remnants of that time all over the property: old abandoned cabins, building in the work in strange places, roads that lead to long forgotten shelters.
As financial times got tight for the City, they closed the park down to save on expenses. Local fly fisherman were expecially disappointed because Otter Creek had always been stocked with trout by the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Game. It was closed for years and you can still see some of the signs of that neglect. But a few years ago the City swapped the park with the state, and it’s now under the management of the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. The park has made a tremendous rebound.
The park covers a large swath of beautifully wooded area along the Ohio River and the hills that overlook it. Otter Creek meanders through about 3.5 miles of forest until it dumps into the river. There are many miles of running and biking trails, a rapidly expanding campground, cabins for rent, and excellent trout fishing. It’s still home to Camp Piomingo, as well as a large Frisbee golf course and numerous picnic areas. The roads through the park are well maintained.
There is a gritty, off the grid vibe to this place, as if there are a lot of ghosts from the past lurking around. There are park officials around, but it’s not the tight ship you might have experienced from other Kentucky state parks and lodges. There’s still abandoned facilities everywhere. But Fish and Wildlife have brought the campground back online and it gets better every year.
The campground is a mishmash of developed, primitive, and developing sites. By developing I mean that they have a lot of work to do. Many of the sites don’t have picnic tables. There are a few sites with both water and electricity, and more than just wager. There are two working bathrooms with running water and showers (and even a little hot water). There are a combination of sites spread over a large area, some along a pavilioned meadow and others closer to the woods. The park has also built 4-5 large cabins for rent.
The park is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays. You can still camp if you check in on Sunday and get the codes for the gates. It’s a good deal to come on a Sunday night because you can fish the park pretty much by yourself on Monday.
Otter Creek is the closest place to fish for trout to Louisville. It’s a medium size creek with plenty of good habitat for the stocked trout. F&W stocks the creek several times a year. The water gets hot in the summer and usually there are no larger hold-overs. However, the Derby City Fly Fishing Club has taken an active role in stocking larger fish along a longer swath of the creek, so there are 20+ brood fish lurking in the creek along with enough 12” and 14” fish to keep things interesting.
Most people park at the Garnettsville picnic area at the entrance to the park and walk the creek from there. The fishing is not bad in that area, but be advised it’s the most high traffic area of the park, and there will be other fisherman. You can take a longer walk to a more secluded spot, including access via a hiking trail to Blue Hole, which is closer to the river. As you get closer to the river you’ll also catch more smallmouth, the occasional drum, and all of the other weird stuff that migrates up from the Ohio River.
These trout are not sophisticated, and usually take brightly covered nymphs. Once in a great while there will be a hatch with visible rises and you can use dry flies. But sub surface patterns are the norm.
I love Otter Creek. It’s become my go-to camping spot close to home. It has woods, fishing, hiking, and amenities. It’s not too shiny and polished, and a little rough around the edges. I come here frequently for one night getaways, especially on Sundays when I want to take a Monday off. If you’re looking for a spot to unwind and get a little fly fishing in, I highly recommend it.