Most of the town is located in the Golden Plains Shire local government area; however, a small section lies in the Shire of Pyrenees. Smythesdale is 19km west of Ballarat and 135km west of the state capital, Melbourne. At the 2016 census, Smythesdale and the surrounding area had a population of 1,032.
The town was established during the Victorian Gold Rush, and the Post Office opened on 14 July 1854. The town was known as Smythe's Creek until 1864.
Facilities in the town include the Court House Hotel, a bluestone police lock-up, constructed in 1869 and the old Court House, now home to the local historical society. The former courthouse closed on 1 January 1983 after having not been visited by a Magistrate since 1976, was briefly used as a Sunday school and was then leased to the historical society in 1985.