The ban is so strictly enforced that when President Gerald Ford visited in 1975, he and first lady Betty Ford travelled by horse-drawn carriage.
But the Trump administration is known for its norm-breaking, and on Saturday, vice president Mike Pence rumbled across the island in an eight-vehicle motorcade.
Mr Pence was on the island to speak at the Michigan Republican Party's leadership conference, the first ever sitting vice president to address it in its 60-year history.
Ron Fournier, a Michigan native and former Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, said the motorcade was "obscene”.
“Sacrilege,” he tweeted, adding that “no security expert would claim it's necessary”.
Another local posted: "Even President Gerald Ford rode in a horse drawn carriage. Is there no limit to the crass elitist raised middle finger to America?"
But others said it was a sign that times had changed, with presidents and their senior officials facing increased security threats.
There are typically only a few exemptions to the motorised vehicle ban - emergency vehicles and snowmobiles in winter are among those allowed.
Residents usually walk or cycle on the island, which sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas.
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