I’ve been a regular hiker on Central NJ trails for 24 years, and in all that time suffered one tick bite in the Garden State. So let’s not go crazy here (that’s my tick, pulled out of my thigh pictured on the right). Luckily, I’ve picked 3 or 4 other ticks off my skin before they bit me (I felt them moving across my skin, first), so let’s not underestimate the danger, either.
It pays to be cautious.
First, the basics. Ticks generally get on your body from your feet, and then move around to find a place to attach themselves, usually 30 minutes to several hours later. If you feel something crawling on your skin, take it seriously and investigate. You might be surprised to find a tick crawling, looking for that perfect spot. Until the tick actually starts feeding, it can’t harm you. Just flush it down the sink.
Personally, I ALWAYS hike in long pants and shoes, even in high summer. It’s not just for the ticks: NJ trails feature stinging nettles and poison ivy. Pants, shoes, socks, by themselves help protect you from all of them. Spray your shoes, socks, and lower pants legs with a repellent, or use permethrin-treated clothing, and you go a long way to avoiding bites. On your return, change your clothes, take a shower, and inspect yourself. My two tick bites (one in NJ, and another in VA) both took place when I didn’t take a shower until the next day.
Frankly, folks who hike in NJ in shorts and open sandals are crazy, imo.
Recognize that walking through good tick habitat greatly increases the likelihood of getting a bite. Fortunately, most popular NJ hiking trails see enough foot traffic that the trail itself is reasonably barren. Danger times come in fall, when the leaves are newly on the ground, if you walk through tall grass, or if you bushwhack through brush of any kind. So be particularly vigilant if you do any of those things. My VA tick bite occurred after a long bushwhack; my NJ bite when newly fallen, October leaves were thick on the ground.
I can strongly recommend a new book (published 2020) by Alexis Chesney, ND. Tons of information about prevention and treatment. Alexis (who happens to be my sister-in-law) is a Doctor of Naturopathy specializing in treating Lyme. If you, like me, try to avoid antibiotics and toxic chemicals, this is definitely the book for you: PREVENTING LYME