There is no good time of year, only less bad times. If we had snow and freezing, I assume the ticks would be very inactive at that point, but we live here, and there is no winter here.
If you followed these forums, this past spring, it was repeatedly noted that this year is one of the worst years for ticks so far, nationally.
Spring/Summer/Fall is the most dangerous time because that's when the nymphs are active. as well as the adults. The nymphs have a much higher rate of infection than the adults, and are also this big (poppy seed sized): .
Winter is more for the adults only, which are easier to spot because they are bigger, the size of a sesame seed.
If you are hiking down an open trail, and not brushing against grasses, knee high etc, there's not a lot of ways a tick can get on you I believe. If you sit on fallen leaves, under a tree, there are lots of ways for young ticks especially to get on you. Supposedly ticks prefer the uphill side of a trail's edge, if there is one.
The 24 hours to contract lyme is not hard and fast, like most things known, or rather, not really known, just estimated. One case got it almost immediately, others might take more than 24 hours. The first known tick gathered to prove ticks spread lyme was collected by a biologist quite soon after he got bitten, and he subsequently got lyme from that bite.
Permethrin works, shoving pants into socks and wearing long sleeves works especially with permethrin.
It helps to be aware of growth along trail, the ticks aren't magicians, they are spiders that crawl, they don't jump from what I gather, or drop.
The young ticks, contrary to some views some people here are still sadly repeating, do not live on leaves and low branches, they live on the ground, tree duff, logs and so on, the young ticks are shooting for mice, their main hosts at the juvenile phase. The adult ticks are shooting for deer, who I guess they get along with reasonably well, ie, the deer do not contract Lyme. I just learned that one.
You are correct to fear, I read some stuff from Norwegian base jumpers (people who think it's fun to jump off fjord cliffs and parachute down), and they noted that what they fear is lyme and ticks, because, unlike some people on these forums, they have used their brains to witness facts, such as their friends getting chronic lyme, which is about as debilitating as anything you can hope to contract. Now as for the wisdom of hurtling off cliff... Base jumpers are prone to this problem because to get to fjord cliff wall tops, they have to bushwack a lot.
But proper care, proper clothing, and a careful tick check post hike certainly minimize the danger. note that it's MUCH easier to do proper tick checks with a partner, because ticks just happen to love everwhere on your body you can't actually see, your behind your knees, groin area, armpits, and right along your hairline. And being informed and taking the proper precautions certainly do a huge amount to make hiking enjoyable again, and minimizing the risk. The biggest danger of these insects is ignorance, and believing things that have long since been shown to be false.
A recent study I just read suggests an underreporting by 12 times of lyme infections in the USA, making this problem far worse than the CDC currently admits. CDC tick tests, by the way, are close to useless as data, they are limited, often only sampling a few ticks in a small area. People up in Sonoma did their own tick testing and found about 40% infection rates in nymphs.
If you respect the situation and handle it accordingly you are already part of the way home, and are far less likely to be hit with unexpected diseases.
About 50% of people never know they were bitten, and about 50% of lyme victims never see the classic bulls eye rash, so the real takeaway is this: if you get a weird fever that lingers, with sweats, after hiking, assume the worst and get treatment as soon as possible. While 30 days of antibiotics is not great for your body, it's a lot better than getting lyme chronically. In california doctors are very ignorant about this stuff, by the way, not like the east coast.
What is understood on these questions is not hard and fast, this knowledge is a work in progress, and should be treated as such.
REI sells a nice tick remover, it's a shovel like flat thing, with groove in the center to get the tick's head stuck in so you can slowly remove it. All old tick removal old wives tales have been shown to be very bad ideas, fire, grease, etc. Get hold of body, then slowly pull out. The rei tool is probably similar to other dog tick removal tools I'd guess, it comes with a magnifying glass, so you can get the tick by the right end. Tweezers if done wrong can squirt the contents of the stomach of the tick into your body, which is a poor idea for obvious reasons.