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Beyond Disney: 8 Affordable Family Destinations in the U.S.

Great Smoky Mountain Skywheel in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Getty Images

While some kids have a unique bucket list of travel dreams and goals, nearly every child dreams of going to Disney World one day. For many kids — and many families — Disney is a box that must be checked off no matter the cost or the inconvenience involved.

SEE ALSO: 31 Best Travel Sites to Save You Money

But, with Disney World tickets approaching $100 per person, per day, many families can't justify the cost. This is especially true if you need to fly to the park, since even domestic airfare can add an extra $300–$500 per person to the cost of your trip.

Fortunately, there is an array of other family-friendly destinations just waiting to be discovered all over the United States. If you're planning a fun trip with your kids but want to spend less than you would at Disney World, consider these affordable vacation spots all over the country.

1. Orlando, Florida

Sure, Orlando is home to Disney World, but that's not all. This southern city is actually bursting with affordable things to do and see that have little to do with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.

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For starters, you'll find plenty of non-Disney parks, including Fun Spot America Theme Park and Aquatica Orlando Water Park, both of which are less than $50 per person, per day to visit. Also keep in mind that the Disney Springs district (formerly Downtown Disney), which features plenty of Disney stores and attractions, is free to visit even if you're not going to one of the parks. You'll also find numerous non-park attractions in Orlando, including a wax museum, the Orlando Science Center, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

The best part about Orlando is that there is a nearly endless supply of affordable hotel and condo options. Not only can you book a three-bedroom Orlando condo for less than $99 per night, but three-star hotel properties around the city start at just $50 per night. (See also on WiseBread.com: 8 Affordable Amusement Parks That Are Just as Fun as Disney)

2. Santa Claus, Indiana

While Santa Claus, Indiana probably sounds obscure (and it kind of is!), this tiny town is actually home to Holiday World & Splashin' Safari — a theme park/water park that was recently named number four in the nation and number 13 in the world. The big difference is, instead of Disney's $100 per person ticket price, a day at Holiday World starts at just $27.99 per person. You also get free sunscreen, soft drinks, parking, and Wi-Fi, making it easy to save even more.

But, there's other stuff to do in Santa Claus, including Santa's Candy Castle (a sweets shop), Santa's Stables (horseback riding), golf courses, and a berry farm. You can also pitch a tent affordably at Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort, or book a local two-star or three-star hotel for as little as $56 per night in October. (See also on WiseBread.com: Easiest Ways to Save on Your Next RV Camping Trip)

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3. San Diego, California

San Diego is well-known for its year-round perfect weather, its beautiful beaches, and its endless bounty of things to do. You can visit the famous San Diego Zoo, check out the USS Midway Museum, explore Balboa Park, or enjoy a beach day in nearby (and famous) La Jolla.

While California is an expensive state to visit overall, San Diego can be surprisingly affordable. For example, you can book an overnight at a downtown hotel this October for as little as $70 per night. Heck, even the Wyndham Garden San Diego near Sea World can be booked for as little as $83 per night this fall. (See also on WiseBread.com: 5 Most Affordable Cruise Lines for Families)

4. Branson, Missouri

Branson is known for its honky-tonk music and over-the-top shows, but that's not all. The city is also home to a range of family-friendly activities to please kids (and parents) of all ages. You can check out an inexpensive country or Broadway-style show, visit the famed Titanic Museum, or ride rides at Silver Dollar City theme park or take on the Runaway roller coaster at Branson Mountain Adventure Park.

Branson hosts a wide range of lodging options, many of which have amazing pools and on-site entertainment of their own. You can book a nightly stay at Castle Rock Resort & Waterpark this fall for as little as $69 per night.

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SEE ALSO: The Travel Tipping Quiz

5. Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a natural wonderland with jaw-dropping scenery and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Depending on where you stay near the Grand Canyon, you can find hiking, white-water rafting, and waterfalls to explore.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk allows your family to walk over the expansive canyon without fear, while the historic Grand Canyon Railway offers a fun way to see the area without too much work.

Amazingly, you can book a four-star hotel in Flagstaff for as little as $120 per night this fall, or a simple room at Country Inn & Suites for as little as $99.

6. South Dakota

South Dakota is constantly overlooked as a top travel destination, which is a shame. Taking your kids to South Dakota is both a walk through time and a celebration of our country's natural beauty. Not only is the state home to historic Mt. Rushmore, but it offers the scenic Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, and quirky spots like the Corn Palace and Wall Drug Store.

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South Dakota is perfect for a family RV or camping trip, or as part of an extensive road trip across the northern states. Hotels in Wall start at about $70 per night, while lodging in cities like Keystone starts at just $50 per night.

Even some of the pricier hotels in the state are rather affordable. A night's stay at the three-star Black Forest Inn Bed & Breakfast, for example, will set you back just $160 per night this fall.

7. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is beautiful indeed, but it doesn't get enough credit as an affordable beach destination. Believe it or not, you can book an oceanfront condo for as little as $700 per week this fall. Oceanfront hotels like Bar Harbor start at just $44 per night. If you want something fancier, even the Embassy Suites on the Myrtle Beach oceanfront can be booked for as little as $219 per night.

While the beach will keep everyone in your group busy, there is plenty of other stuff to do when you tire of the sand and surf. For example, Myrtle Beach is home to several small amusement parks and water parks, plus a state park and a Ripley's Aquarium. (See also on WiseBread.com: 10 Affordable Water Parks You Can Drive To)

8. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee sits in a beautiful setting among the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains. The area is known for its mountain scenery, outdoor recreation like hiking and climbing, and a family-friendly atmosphere with plenty to do and see.

For example, you'll find the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, which features over 10,000 exotic sea creatures from all over the world. You can also enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in all its glory, dozens of breweries and mom n' pop diners, and shopping. Dollywood, an Appalachian-themed family park, is also just 20 minutes away in nearby Pigeon Forge.

SEE ALSO: Fabulous Travel Freebies

Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are affordable spots for families as well, with three-star hotels starting at just $109 per night this fall during peak leaf-changing season.

This article is from Holly Johnson of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.