Mines of Moria: The Caves in the Lord of the Rings

This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing products through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. If you would like to learn more, please read this Disclaimer for details.

Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings (who isn’t?), you’re in for a treat. In this article we’re going to explore a cave system that none of us can get to, the Mines of Moria. Also named Khazad-dûm, this region refers to an ancient subterranean complex in Tolkein’s Middle Earth.

Originally the largest of Dwarf Kingdoms, this cave system was too massive to imagine for even some of its inhabitants. If you’ve never seen the movies, spoiler alert, there’s a clip of the fellowship traveling through the mines below. If you have, enjoy it once again.

So just how big was this cave system? How did it initially form, and what more is there to know about them? Assuming there aren’t any orcs that might attack you, would you want to explore them if you could? I will try to answer all the questions you might have. I’ve even found some some great Lord of the Rings souvenirs you might want to add to your collection. Let’s get started!

Some History of the Mines of Moria

The formation and history of Moria is rooted in Tolkein’s mythology rather than real-world geology or scientific data. However, Tolkien was an Oxford professor and a lover of languages and history. He created an extensive background and lore for these mines that we can explore.

According to Tolkien’s legendarium, the Mines of Moria were carved out by the Dwarves in the Second Age of Middle-earth. This was approximately 5,000 years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings”. The Dwarves, led by Durin, founded the great city of Khazad-dûm beneath the Misty Mountains.

An image shows the Misty Mountains, which house the Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings.

Durin was drawn to the site because of Mirrormere, a lake with enchanted properties that lay nearby. In its waters, he saw a crown of stars that appeared to be below him, a sign he took as a blessing on his kingdom. As Dwarves were known to love earth’s treasure, they started mining in the Misty Mountains without much delay. The mountains’ abundance of valuable minerals and gemstones included mithril, a fictional, priceless metal that was highly prized throughout Middle-earth.

As the mining continued, Khazad-dûm expanded over the centuries into a vast network of halls, tunnels, and deep mineshafts. The Dwarves sculpted large and magnificent halls, like the Hall of Durin, and delved deep into the roots of the mountains. Their engineering feats were unparalleled, representing a blend of architectural strength and elegance.

This cave system would eventually span over 40 miles laterally through the Misty Mountains. We first learn about this region in The Hobbit,

How Big are the Mines of Moria?

The exact dimensions are not given in the books. What’s known is that the mines span around 40 miles (64.4 km) and are composed of numerous levels.

The Fellowship of the Ring takes several days to traverse the mines. If we assume they are better travelers than the average hiker today, it makes sense that it would take quite some time to traverse such a labyrinth. The mines also descend very deep into the earth.

One of the more known chambers within the Mines of Moria is the Chamber of Mazarbul, or the Chamber of Records. Tolkein merely used the word vast, though perhaps the room with the Balrog was a bit larger. The many-staired stairways and passages suggest that there was an extensive vertical scale of the mines, larger than what we typically see in our caves.

Is there a cave today like it?

While not really comparable in architecture, there is at least one artificial cave today that rivals the Mines of Moria in depth. If you were thinking of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, that’s a fair guess. Being the world’s largest cave system, Mammoth Cave is large enough to win in a competition of size. However, it’s a naturally formed cave, and doesn’t feature the same grand chambers despite its mind-boggling length as a network.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, on the other hand, does. This is a vast underground complex with corridors, chambers, and even chapels carved into the rock salt, spread over nine levels. Its passages total over 178 miles (287 km) total. One of the largest and perhaps the most famous room is called The Chapel of St. Kinga, which is about 177 feet (54 m) long and reaches a height of up to 39 feet (12 m).

This image below shows the extravagant Chapel itself. Unfortunately, it is not commonly available for ordinary tourism. It does look incredible though, doesn’t it?

The Chapel of St. Kinga is shown, as a similar underground chamber to some of the rooms in the Mines of Moria.

How did the Mines of Moria Form?

The exact geological processes behind the formation of the Misty Mountains and the materials within them are not described in detail by Tolkien.

However, if we assume that Tolkein’s Earth was similar to Earth today, the presence of precious metals and gemstones tells us a lot. These mountains had experienced substantial geological activity, such as volcanic eruptions and tectonic movements. These kinds of violent changes are known to lead to the formation of valuable mineral deposits in real-world geology.

An image shows the tower of Sauron with an erupting Mount Doom in the distance.

Where are the Mines of Moria located?

While the Mines of Moria were carved out of the Misty Mountains, you might be wondering if you could visit the place itself. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed primarily in New Zealand, where Peter Jackson decided to showcase the natural beauty of his homeland. I think we can all agree it was a perfect choice.

Unfortunately, Moria doesn’t quite exist the way we see it on the screen. CGI and clever set construction deserve the credit here. Plus, it’s undeniable that if these caves did exist on our planet, there would have been thousands of expeditions through them by now.

If it’s any consolation, Peter Jackson and his crew did film the exit from the mines using a real mountain. Mount Owen lays surrounded by the unspoiled landscapes of Kahurangi National Park.

An image shows Kahurangi National Park, where the exit from the Mines of Moria was filmed.

It’s not the same as traveling through the mines themselves, but there is a helicopter tour occasionally available here. If you and some friends want to see the beautiful scenery around Mount Owen and the National Park, this is probably the most exciting way to do it.

What Caving Gear Would You Take to Moria?

I would’ve asked about Mordor, but let’s hope you never have to plan to go there. But what about Moria? Can you imagine going on an epic quest through an extensive system of caves, with no real caving gear?

The Fellowship was carrying whatever they had on them for much of the journey, regardless of their environment. Other than the occasional natural torch, you wouldn’t find any lights, helmets, climbing gear or other essentials. Considering that the Mines were mostly abandoned by the Dwarves, it’s safe to say it got quite dark in there.

PETZL, Vertex Vent Helmet

PETZL, Vertex Vent Helmet

The VERTEX VENT helmet features a six-point textile suspension and CENTERFIT and FLIP&FIT systems, which guarantee that the helmet fits securely on the head. The adjustable-strength chinstrap makes it ideal for work both at height and on the ground. 

To be fair, in middle earth, well-made caving helmets, flashlights, and walkie-talkies weren’t around to make things easier. Reliable communication and safe traveling relied upon common sense, ingenuity, and occasionally a bit of luck.

For their light, our heroes mostly relied on Gandalf. Having a magic staff helps, but it’s not easy to find these days. However, some other unique tools can be found today.

LOTR Illuminated Moria Staff of Gandalf and Display Plaque - Officially Licensed Movie Replica

This staff is a screen accurate replica of the actual prop used in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Crafted of polyresin with hand-painted detailing, it's perfect for collectors, as each piece has an individual serial number, certificate of authenticity, and wall plaque.

While you shouldn’t try to mimic the type of spelunking you see on the screen, it’s interesting to see how characters dealt with the natural elements on their epic journey. The Dwarves definitely didn’t work in the dark – Peter Jackson depicts the possibility of an advanced system of lighting, which was extinguished long before the main characters arrived.

Better than a Whistle?

One of these tools was the Horn of Gondor, which was a large silver and black horn carried by Boromir. Boromir, the eldest son of Denethor II carried it with him to attend the Council of Elrond.

The horn was described as being bound with a baldric of “strange device” and was said to have been sounded by Boromir’s ancestors in times of need or on the eve of battle. If you’re not carrying a whistle or a walkie-talkie, a booming call of war surely gets the attention of your friend who wandered off a little too far on his own.

While it’s not used anytime in the mines, This is a pretty great replica, and it actually makes a cool when you use it!

UNITED CUTLERY Lord of The Rings Horn of Gondor - Officially Licensed Movie Replica

This authentically detailed replica is a reproduction of the actual filming prop built by Weta Workshop and used in the film. The 19 overall horn is finely cast polyresin with precisely-molded details for the look of real polished brass and steer horn.


Though he didn’t use it in the caves, Samwise Gamgee did carry a coil of Elven rope with him on the journey. We don’t know if it would’ve made much difference considering how massive and dangerous the trek through Moria was, but we do know that Sam is perhaps a lot more prepared than others of his generation.


Though you don’t need weapons when traveling to caves, and I do not recommend taking one on a cave tour, the Fellowship certainly had reasons for theirs. Between Gandalf’s staff, numerous swords, an axe, and bow and arrows, the group was prepared for just about any hostility they faced.

Lord of The Rings Anduril Sword by Hand Forger Hunting Crafts

This company makes Lord of the Rings Swords, including this Anduril Sword, Strider's Sword, Frodo's Sting, and Gandalf Blue & White Staffs.

Even though you probably won’t be taking a staff with you on a hike, unless it’s a walking stick, these do look pretty badass.

I spent some time trying to find a realistic bow and arrow set for the Legolas fans, but there isn’t a single best one. You can always show your love for Legolas in other ways, as shown below.

Just make sure not to get your braids caught on any sharp rocks while you’re looking for orcs, or the wig will come off, and your expedition might lose motivation.

Rubie's mens Lord of the Rings Legolas Blonde Wig

Putting this on will improve your bow and arrow accuracy! 

Mines of Moria MMORPG

Looking for another way to explore the Mines of Moria yourself? An expansion to the MMORPG, Lord of the Rings Online, is scheduled to release soon. This expansion, titled Return to Moria, follows as the Dwarves attempt to reclaim their home of Moria.

As a player, you will join teams to survive, craft, build and explore the virtual mines in-game. As you can expect with adventure games of this caliber, dangers will be lurking.

The original release including Moria was released in 2008, called “The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria”. Since it’s been over 13 years now, we can probably expect some major improvements in graphics and gameplay.

I haven’t tried the game myself, but as a fan of the entire LOTR universe, I might consider it when the new expansion comes out.

You can check out a preview of the new player experience in this video.

Any LEGO Fans?

If you love LOTR and you like LEGOs too, this is a must-have set.

This set was released in 2012, and maintains exceptional reviews. Fans have called it immersive, and it does a good job of capturing one of the most intense and pivotal scenes in “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

The set comes with 776 pieces, and attempts to replicates the atmosphere of the ancient Dwarven kingdom. There’s hidden treasure, weaponry, and a collapsing wall function, similar to how the massive cave walls collapsed during the standoff with the Balrog.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings Hobbit The Mines of Moria (9473)

For LEGO fans, this set comes with classic LOTR weapons including chain, club, bow, double-bladed axe, single-bladed axe, small hobbit sword, shield and Boromir's sword.

There's also a cave troll inside, somewhere...

Additionally, it comes with an array of mini-figures including Pippin, Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas. Their opponents include two Moria orcs, a giant cave troll, and of course, the skeleton of a fallen Dwarf.

The quality and detail of the mini-figures is commendable. My favorite is the Cave Troll, whose size and build are appropriately imposing compared to the other figures. The designers have clearly gone to great lengths to replicate the weaponry and accessories of each character.

However, though it does a good job at representing key aspects of the Mines of Moria, the actual structure could be more expansive. I’d imagine it takes quite a lot of LEGOs to fully capture the vastness of such a large cave system. Peter Jackson certainly knocked it out of the park on film, like no other product seems to have since.

Nonetheless, the “Mines of Moria” set offers a great deal of playability and display potential. Whether you’re looking to recreate the epic battle scene from the movie or add it to your Middle Earth display, this LEGO set does its job.


Unless there’s some unexplored material written by Tolkein, there’s not much more to go off of with regards to the Mines of Moria. Still, hopefully you learned something interesting here about them from a caving point of view.

With collapsing bridges, falling boulders, and hostile orcs, it’s unlikely that any caving gear could truly protect you from everything. If you’re still unsure about your own expeditions, you’ll find plenty of real caving information throughout this blog, for any level of experience.

As always, stay safe, plan ahead with a group, and bring a backup source of light on any trip!

Leave a comment