In nature, when hazardous geophysical granular flows (e.g. a snow avalanche) impact on an obstacle as they stream down a slope, rapid changes in flow depth, direction and velocity will occur. It is important to understand how granular material flows around such obstacles in order to enhance the design of defense structures. In this study, a three dimensional (3-D) Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH) model is developed to simulate granular flow past different types of obstacles. The elastic–perfectly plastic model with implementation of the Mohr–Coulomb failure criterion is applied to simulate the material behavior, which describes the stress states of soil in the plastic flow regime. The model was validated by simulating the collapse of a 3-D column of sand with two different aspect ratios; the results showed that the SPH method is capable of simulating granular flow. The model is then applied to simulate the gravity-driven granular flow down an inclined surface obstructed by a group of columns with different spacing, a circular cylinder and a tetrahedral wedge. The numerical results are then compared with experimental results and two different numerical solutions. The good agreements obtained from these comparisons demonstrate that the SPH method may be a powerful method for simulating granular flow and can be extended to design protective structures.